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Title: Charles Darwin

Author: Grant Allen

Release Date: December 23, 2010 [EBook #34730]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


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In this little volume I have endeavoured to present the life and work of
Charles Darwin viewed as a moment in a great revolution, in due relation
both to those who went before and to those who come after him.
Recognising, as has been well said, that the wave makes the crest, not
the crest the wave, I have tried to let my hero fall naturally into his
proper place in a vast onward movement of the human intellect, of which
he was himself at once a splendid product and a moving cause of the
first importance. I have attempted to show him both as receiving the
torch from Lamarck and Malthus, and as passing it on with renewed
brilliancy to the wide school of evolutionary thinkers whom his work was
instrumental in arousing to fresh and vigorous activity along a thousand
separate and varied lines of thought and action.

As Mr. Francis Darwin was already engaged upon a life of his father, I
should have shrunk from putting forth my own little book if I had not
succeeded in securing beforehand his kind sanction. That sanction,
however, was at once so frankly and cordially given, that all my
hesitation upon such a score was immediately laid aside; and as I have
necessarily had to deal rather with Darwin's position as a thinker and
worker than with the biographical details of his private life, I trust
the lesser book may not clash with the greater, but to some extent may
supplement and even illustrate it.

Treating my subject mainly as a study in the interaction of organism and
environment, it has been necessary for me frequently to introduce the
names of living men of science side by side with some of those who have
more or less recently passed away from among us. For uniformity's sake,
as well as for brevity's, I have been compelled, in every instance
alike, to omit the customary conventional handles. I trust those who
thus find themselves docked of their usual titles of respect will kindly
remember that the practice is in fact adopted _honoris causa_; they are
paying prematurely the usual penalty of intellectual greatness.

My obligations to Professor Huxley, to Professor Fiske, to Mr. Herbert
Spencer, to Professor Sachs, to Hermann Mueller, to Dr. Krause, to
Charles Darwin himself, and to many other historians and critics of
evolutionism, will be sufficiently obvious to all instructed readers,
and are for the most part fully acknowledged already in the text. It
would be absurd to overload so small and popularly written a book with
references and authorities. I hope, therefore, that any other writers to
whom I may inadvertently have neglected to confess my debts will kindly
rest satisfied with this general acknowledgment. There are, however,
three persons in particular from whom I have so largely borrowed facts
or ideas that I owe them more special and definite thanks. From Mr.
Woodall's admirable paper on Charles Darwin, contributed to the
'Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society,' I have taken
much interesting information about my hero's immediate ancestry and
early days. From Mr. Samuel Butler, the author of 'Evolution Old and
New,' I have derived many pregnant suggestions with regard to the true
position and meaning of Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and the early
essentially teleological evolutionists--suggestions which I am all the
more anxious to acknowledge since I differ fundamentally from Mr. Butler
in his estimate of the worth of Charles Darwin's distinctive discovery
of natural selection. Finally, to Mr. Bates, the 'Naturalist on the
Amazons,' I am indebted for several valuable items of information as to
the general workings of the pre-Darwinian evolutionary spirit.

In a book dealing so largely with a contemporary movement, the history
of which has never yet been consecutively written down in full, or
subjected as a whole to searching criticism, there must probably be many
errors of detail, which can hardly be avoided under such circumstances.
I have endeavoured to minimise them as far as possible. For those which
may have escaped my own scrutiny I must trust both for correction and
for indulgence to the kindness of my readers.


















Charles Darwin was a great man, and he accomplished a great work. The
Newton of biology, he found the science of life a chaotic maze; he left
it an orderly system, with a definite plan and a recognisable meaning.
Great men are not accidents; great works are not accomplished in a
single day. Both are the product of adequate causes. The great man
springs from an ancestry competent to produce him; he is the final
flower and ultimate outcome of converging hereditary forces, that
culminate at last in the full production of his splendid and exceptional
personality. The great work which it is his mission to perform in the
world is never wholly of his own inception. It also is the last effect
of antecedent conditions, the slow result of tendencies and ideas long
working unseen or but little noticed beneath the surface of opinion, yet
all gradually conspiring together towards the definitive revolution at
whose head, in the fulness of time, the as yet unborn genius is destined
to place himself. This is especially the case with those extraordinary
waves of mental upheaval, one of which gave us the Italian renaissance,
and another of which is actually in progress around us at the present
day. They have their sources deep down in the past of human thought and
human feeling, and they are themselves but the final manifestation of
innumerable energies which have long been silently agitating the souls
of nations in their profoundest depths.

Thus, every great man may be regarded as possessing two distinct lines
of ancestry, physical and spiritual, each of which separately demands
elucidation. He owes much in one way to his father and his mother, his
grandfathers and his grandmothers, and his remoter progenitors, from
some or all of whom he derives, in varying degrees and combinations, the
personal qualities whose special interaction constitutes his greatness
and his idiosyncrasy; he owes much in another way to his intellectual
and moral ancestors, the thinkers and workers who have preceded him in
his own department of thought or action, and have made possible in the
course of ages the final development of his special revolution or his
particular system. Viewed as an individual, he is what he is, with all
his powers and faculties and potentialities, in virtue of the brain, the
frame, the temperament, the energy he inherits directly from his actual
ancestors, paternal and maternal; viewed as a factor or element in a
great movement, he is what he is because the movement had succeeded in
reaching such and such a point in its progress already without him, and
waited only for such and such a grand and commanding personality in
order to carry it yet a step further on its course of development.

No man who ever lived would more cordially have recognised these two
alternative aspects of the great worker's predetermining causes than
Charles Darwin. He knew well that the individual is the direct
cumulative product of his physical predecessors, and that he works and
is worked upon in innumerable ways by the particular environment into
whose midst he is born. Let us see, then, in his own case what were
these two main sets of conditioning circumstances which finally led up
to the joint production of Charles Darwin, the man and the philosopher,
the thinking brain and the moving energy. In other words, what was the
state of the science of life at the time when he first began to observe
and to speculate; and what was the ancestry which made him be born a
person capable of helping it forward at a single bound over its great
restricting dogmatic barrier of the fixity of species?

Let us begin, in the first place, by clearing the path beforehand of a
popular misconception, so extremely general and almost universal that,
unless it be got rid of at the very outset of our sketch, much of the
real scope and purport of Darwin's life and work must, of necessity,
remain entirely misunderstood by the vast mass of English readers. In
the public mind Darwin is, perhaps, most commonly regarded as the
discoverer and founder of the evolution hypothesis. Two ideas are
usually associated with his name and memory. It is believed that he was
the first propounder of the theory which supposes all plant and animal
forms to be the result, not of special creation, but of slow
modification in pre-existent organisms. It is further and more
particularly believed that he was the first propounder of the theory
which supposes the descent of man to be traceable from a remote and more
or less monkey-like ancestor. Now, as a matter of fact, Darwin was not
the prime originator of either of these two great cardinal ideas. Though
he held both as part of his organised theory of things, he was not by
any means the first or the earliest thinker to hold them or to propound
them publicly. Though he gained for them both a far wider and more
general acceptance than they had ever before popularly received, he laid
no sort of claim himself to originality or proprietorship in either
theory. The grand idea which he did really originate was not the idea of
'descent with modification,' but the idea of 'natural selection,' by
which agency, as he was the first to prove, definite kinds of plants and
animals have been slowly evolved from simpler forms, with definite
adaptations to the special circumstances by which they are surrounded.
In a word, it was the peculiar glory of Charles Darwin, not to have
suggested that all the variety of animal and vegetable life might have
been produced by slow modifications in one or more original types, but
to have shown the nature of the machinery by which such a result could
be actually attained in the practical working out of natural causes. He
did not invent the development theory, but he made it believable and
comprehensible. He was not, as most people falsely imagine, the Moses of
evolutionism, the prime mover in the biological revolution; he was the
Joshua who led the world of thinkers and workers into full fruition of
that promised land which earlier investigators had but dimly descried
from the Pisgah-top of conjectural speculation.

How far Darwin's special idea of natural selection supplemented and
rendered credible the earlier idea of descent with modification we shall
see more fully when we come to treat of the inception and growth of his
great epoch-making work, 'The Origin of Species;' for the present, it
must suffice to point out that in the world into which he was born, the
theory of evolution already existed in a more or less shadowy and
undeveloped shape. And since it was his task in life to raise this
theory from the rank of a mere plausible and happy guess to the rank of
a highly elaborate and almost universally accepted biological system, we
may pause awhile to consider on the threshold what was the actual state
of natural science at the moment when the great directing and organising
intelligence of Charles Darwin first appeared.

From time immemorial, in modern Christendom at least, it had been the
general opinion of learned and simple alike that every species of plant
or animal owed its present form and its original existence to a distinct
act of special creation. This _naif_ belief, unsupported as it was by
any sort of internal evidence, was supposed to rest directly upon the
express authority of a few obscure statements in the Book of Genesis.
The Creator, it was held, had in the beginning formed each kind after a
particular pattern, had endowed it with special organs devised with
supreme wisdom for subserving special functions, and had bestowed upon
it the mystical power of reproducing its like in its own image to all
generations. No variation of importance ever occurred within the types
thus constituted; all plants and animals always retained their special
forms unaltered in any way from era to era. This is the doctrine of the
fixity and immutability of species, almost universal in the civilised
world up to the end of the last century.

Improbable as such a crude idea now seems to any person even moderately
acquainted with the extraordinary variety and variability of living
forms, it nevertheless contained nothing at all likely to contradict the
ordinary experience of the everyday observer in the last century. The
handful of plants and animals with which he was personally acquainted
consisted for the most part of a few large, highly advanced, and
well-marked forms, not in the least liable to be mistaken for one
another even by the most hasty and casual spectator. A horse can
immediately be discriminated by the naked eye from a donkey, and a cow
from a sheep, without risk of error; nobody is likely to confuse wheat
with barley, or to hesitate between classing any given fruit that is
laid before him as a pear or an apple, a plum or a nectarine.
Variability seldom comes under the notice of the ordinary passing
spectator as it does under that of the prying and curious scientific
observer; and when it comes at all, as in the case of dogs and pigeons,
roses and hyacinths, it is no doubt set down carelessly on a superficial
view as a mere result of human selection or of deliberate mongrel
interbreeding. To the eye of the average man, all the living objects
ordinarily perceived in external nature fall at once under certain fixed
and recognisable kinds, as dogs and horses, elms and ashes, whose limits
he is never at all inclined to confound in any way one with the other.

Linnaeus, the great father of modern scientific biology, had frankly and
perhaps unthinkingly accepted this current and almost universal dogma of
the fixity and immutability of species. Indeed, by defining a kind as a
group of plants or animals so closely resembling one another as to give
rise to the belief that they might all be descended from a single
ancestor or pair of ancestors, he implicitly gave the new sanction of
his weighty authority to the creation hypothesis, and to the prevalent
doctrine of the unchangeability of organic forms. To Linnaeus, the
species into which he mapped out all the plants and animals then known,
appeared as the descendants each of a solitary progenitor or of a
primitive couple, called into existence at the beginning of all things
by the direct fiat of a designing Creator. He saw the world of organic
life as composed of so many well-demarcated types, each separate,
distinct, and immutable, each capable of producing its like _ad
infinitum_, and each unable to vary from its central standard in any of
its individuals, except perhaps within very narrow and unimportant

But towards the close of the eighteenth century, side by side with the
general awakening of the human intellect and the arrival of a new era of
free social investigation, which culminated in a fresh order of things,
there was developed a more critical and sceptical attitude in the world
of science, which soon produced a notable change of front among thinking
naturalists as to the origin and meaning of specific distinctions.

Buffon was the first great biological innovator who ventured, in very
doubtful and tentative language, to suggest the possibility of the rise
of species from one another by slow modification of ancestral forms.
Essentially a popular essayist, writing in the volcanic
priest-suppressed France of the _ancien regime_, during the inconsistent
days of Louis XV. and Louis XVI., when it was uncertain whether novel
and heterodox opinions would bring down upon their author fame and
reputation or the Sorbonne and the Bastille, Buffon was careful to put
his conjectural conclusions in a studiously guarded and often even
ironical form. But time after time, in his great discursive work, the
'Histoire Naturelle' (published in successive volumes between 1749 and
1788), he recurs anew to the pregnant suggestion that plants and animals
may not be bound by fixed and immovable limits of species, but may
freely vary in every direction from a common centre, so that one kind
may gradually and slowly be evolved by natural causes from the type of
another. He points out that, underlying all external diversities of
character and shape, fundamental likenesses of type occur in many
animals, which irresistibly suggest the novel notion of common descent
from a single ancestor. Thus regarded, he says, not only the ass and the
horse (to take a particular passage) but even man himself, the monkeys,
the quadrupeds, and all vertebrate animals, might be viewed as merely
forming divergent branches of one and the same great family tree. Every
such family, he believed, whether animal or vegetable, might have sprung
originally from a single stock, which after many generations had here
developed into a higher form, and there degenerated into a lower and
less perfect type of organisation. Granting this--granting that nature
could by slow variation produce one species in the course of direct
descent from another unlike it (for example, the ass from the horse),
then, Buffon observed, there was no further limit to be set to her
powers in this respect, and we might reasonably conclude that from a
single primordial being she has gradually been able in the course of
time to develop the whole continuous gamut of existing animal and
vegetable life. To be sure, Buffon always saves himself from censure by
an obvious afterthought--'But no; it is certain from revelation that
every species was directly created by a separate fiat.' This
half-hearted and somewhat subrisive denial, however, must be taken
merely as a concession to the Sorbonne and to the fashionable exegesis
of his own day; and, even so, the Sorbonne was too much in the end for
the philosophic thinker. He had once in his life at least to make his
submission and demand pardon from the offended orthodoxy of the Paris

The wave of thought and feeling, thus apologetically and tentatively
stirred on the unruffled pond of eighteenth century opinion by the
startling plop of Buffon's little smooth-cut pebble, soon widened out on
every side in concentric circles, and affected with its wash the entire
world of biological science in every country. Before the close of the
eighteenth century speculation as to the origin of species was rife in
all quarters of Europe. In France itself, Geoffroy St. Hilaire,
constitutionally cautious and undecided, but wide of view and free from
prejudice, came slowly to the conclusion, in 1795, that all species are
really derived by modification from one or more primitive types. In
Germany, in the very same year, Goethe, with the keen vision of the
poet and the calm eye of the philosopher uniquely combined, discerned
independently as by a lightning flash the identical idea of the origin
of kinds by modification of pre-existent organisms. 'We may assert
without hesitation,' says that great nebulous thinker and observer,
'that all the more perfect organic natures, such as fishes, amphibians,
birds and mammals, with man at their head, were formed at first on one
original type, which still daily changes and modifies its form by
propagation.' In England, twelve months earlier, Dr. Erasmus Darwin,
Charles Darwin's grandfather (of whom more anon), published his
'Zoonomia,' a treatise on the laws of animal life, in which he not only
adopted Buffon's theory of the origin of species by evolution, but also
laid down as the chief cause of such development the actions and needs
of the animals themselves. According to Dr. Erasmus Darwin, animals came
to vary from one another chiefly because they were always altering their
habits and voluntarily accommodating themselves to new actions and
positions in life. His work produced comparatively little effect upon
the world at large in his own time, but it had immense influence upon
the next great prophet of evolution, Lamarck, and through Lamarck on
Lyell, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and the modern school of
evolutionists generally. We shall consider his views in greater detail
when we pass from the spiritual to the physical antecedents of Charles

It was in 1801 that Lamarck first gave to the world his epoch-making
speculations and suggestions on the origin of species; and from that
date to the day of his death, in 1831, the unwearied old philosopher
continued to devote his whole time and energy, in blindness and poverty,
to the elucidation of this interesting and important subject. A bold,
acute, and vigorous thinker, trained in the great school of Diderot and
D'Alembert, with something of the vivid Celtic poetic imagination, and a
fearless habit of forming his own conclusions irrespective of common or
preconceived ideas, Lamarck went to the very root of the matter in the
most determined fashion, and openly proclaimed in the face of frowning
officialism under the Napoleonic reaction his profound conviction that
all species, including man, were descended by modification from one or
more primordial forms. In Charles Darwin's own words, 'He first did the
eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all change,
in the organic as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of
law and not of miraculous interposition. Lamarck seems to have been
chiefly led to his conclusion on the gradual change of species by the
difficulty of distinguishing species and varieties, by the almost
perfect gradation of forms in certain groups, and by the analogy of
domestic productions. With respect to the means of modification, he
attributed something to the direct action of the physical conditions of
life, something to the crossing of already existing forms, and much to
use and disuse, that is, to the effects of habit. To this latter agency
he seems to attribute all the beautiful adaptations in nature--such as
the long neck of the giraffe for browsing on the branches of trees,' He
believed, in short, that animals had largely developed themselves, by
functional effort followed by increased powers and abilities.

Lamarck's great work, the 'Philosophie Zoologique,' though opposed by
the austere and formal genius of the immortal Cuvier--a reactionary
biological conservative and obscurantist, equal to the enormous task of
mapping out piecemeal with infinite skill and power the separate
provinces of his chosen science, but incapable of taking in all the
bearings of the whole field at a single vivid and comprehensive
sweep--Lamarck's great work produced a deep and lasting impression upon
the entire subsequent course of evolutionary thought in scientific
Europe. True, owing to the retrograde tendencies of the First Empire, it
caused but little immediate stir at the precise moment of its first
publication; but the seed it sowed sank deep, and, lying fallow long in
men's minds, bore fruit at last in the next generation with the
marvellous fecundity of the germs of genius. Indeed, from the very
beginning of the present century, a ferment of inquiry on the subject of
creation and evolution was everywhere obvious among speculative
thinkers. The profound interest which Goethe took in the dispute on this
very subject in the French Academie des Sciences between Cuvier and
Geoffroy St. Hilaire, amid the thundering guns of a threatened European
convulsion, was but a solitary symptom of the general stir which
preceded the gestation and birth of the Darwinian hypothesis. It is
impossible to take up any scientific memoirs or treatises of the first
half of our own century without seeing at a glance how every mind of
high original scientific importance was permeated and disturbed by the
fundamental questions aroused, but not fully answered, by Buffon,
Lamarck, and Erasmus Darwin. In Lyell's letters and in Agassiz's
lectures, in the 'Botanic Journal' and the 'Philosophical
Transactions,' in treatises on Madeira beetles and the Australian flora,
we find everywhere the thoughts of men profoundly influenced in a
thousand directions by this universal evolutionary solvent and leaven.

And while the world of thought was thus seething and moving restlessly
before the wave of ideas set in motion by these various independent
philosophers, another group of causes in another field was rendering
smooth the path beforehand for the future champion of the amended
evolutionism. Geology on the one hand and astronomy on the other were
making men's minds gradually familiar with the conception of slow
natural development, as opposed to immediate and miraculous creation.

The rise of geology had been rapid and brilliant. In the last century it
had been almost universally believed that fossil organisms were the
relics of submerged and destroyed worlds, strange remnants of successive
terrible mundane catastrophes. Cuvier himself, who had rendered immense
services to geological science by his almost unerring reconstructions of
extinct animals, remained a partisan of the old theory of constant
cataclysms and fresh creations throughout his whole life; but Lamarck,
here as elsewhere the prophet of the modern uniformitarian concept of
nature, had already announced his grand idea that the ordinary process
of natural laws sufficed to account for all the phenomena of the earth's
crust. In England, William Smith, the ingenious land surveyor, riding up
and down on his daily task over the face of the country, became
convinced by his observations in the first years of the present century
that a fixed order of sequence could everywhere be traced among the
various superincumbent geological strata. Modern scientific geology
takes its rise from the moment of this luminous and luminiferous
discovery. With astonishing rapidity the sequence of strata was
everywhere noted, and the succession of characteristic fossils mapped
out, with the result of showing, however imperfectly at first, that the
history of organic life upon the globe had followed a slow and regular
course of constant development. Immediately whole schools of eager
workers employed themselves in investigating in separate detail the
phenomena of these successive stages of unfolding life. Murchison, fresh
from the Peninsular campaign, began to study the dawn of organic history
in the gloom of the Silurian and Cambrian epochs. A group of less
articulate but not less active workers like Buckland and Mantell
performed similar services for the carboniferous, the wealden, and the
tertiary deposits. Sedgwick endeavoured to co-ordinate the whole range
of then known facts into a single wide and comprehensive survey. De La
Beche, Phillips, and Agassiz added their share to the great work of
reconstruction. Last of all, among those who were contemporary and all
but coeval with Charles Darwin himself, Lyell boldly fought out the
battle of 'uniformitarianism,' proving, with all the accumulated weight
of his encyclopaedic and world-wide knowledge, that every known feature
of geological development could be traced to the agency of causes now in
action, and illustrated by means of slow secular changes still actually
taking place on earth before our very eyes.

The influence of these novel conceptions upon the growth and spread of
evolutionary ideas was far-reaching and twofold. In the first place, the
discovery of a definite succession of nearly related organic forms,
following one another with evident closeness through the various ages,
inevitably suggested to every inquiring observer the possibility of
their direct descent one from the other. In the second place, the
discovery that geological formations were not really separated each from
its predecessor by violent revolutions, but were the result of gradual
and ordinary changes, discredited the old idea of frequent fresh
creations after each catastrophe, and familiarised the minds of men of
science with the alternative notion of slow and natural evolutionary
processes. The past was seen to be in effect the parent of the present;
the present was recognised as the child of the past.

Current astronomical theories also pointed inevitably in the same
direction. Kant, whose supereminent fame as a philosopher has almost
overshadowed his just claims as a profound thinker in physical science,
had already in the third quarter of the eighteenth century arrived at
his sublime nebular hypothesis, in which he suggested the possible
development of stars, suns, planets, and satellites by the slow
contraction of very diffuse and incandescent haze-clouds. This
magnificent cosmical conception was seized and adapted by the genius of
Laplace in his celestial system, and made familiar through his great
work to thinking minds throughout the whole of Europe. In England it was
further modified and remodelled by Sir William Herschel, whose period of
active investigation coincided in part with Charles Darwin's early
boyhood. The bearings of the nebular hypothesis upon the rise of
Darwinian evolutionism are by no means remote: the entire modern
scientific movement forms, in fact, a single great organic whole, of
which the special doctrine of biological development is but a small
separate integral part. All the theories and doctrines which go to make
it up display the one common trait that they reject the idea of direct
creative interposition from without, and attribute the entire existing
order of nature to the regular unfolding of one undeviating continuous

Yet another factor in the intellectual stir and bustle of the time must
needs be mentioned even in so short and cursory a sketch as this of the
causes which led to the Darwinian crisis. In 1798, Thomas Malthus, a
clergyman of the Church of England, published the first edition of his
famous and much-debated 'Essay on the Principle of Population.' Malthus
was the first person who ever called public attention to the tendency of
population to increase up to the utmost limit of subsistence, as well as
to the necessary influence of starvation in checking its further
development beyond that point. Though his essay dealt only with the
question of reproduction in human societies, it was clear that it
possessed innumerable analogies in every domain of animal and vegetable
life. The book ran through many successive editions with extraordinary
rapidity for a work of its class, it was fiercely attacked and bravely
defended, it caused an immense amount of discussion and debate, and
besides its marvellous direct influence as a germinal power upon the
whole subsequent course of politico-economical and sociological thought,
it produced also a remarkable indirect influence on the side current of
biological and speculative opinion. In particular, as we shall more
fully see hereafter, it had an immediate effect in suggesting to the
mind of the great naturalist who forms our present subject the embryo
idea of 'natural selection.'

Such then was the intellectual and social world into which, early in the
present century, Charles Darwin found himself born. Everywhere around
him in his childhood and youth these great but formless evolutionary
ideas were brewing and fermenting. The scientific society of his elders
and of the contemporaries among whom he grew up was permeated with the
leaven of Laplace and of Lamarck, of Hutton and of Herschel. Inquiry was
especially everywhere rife as to the origin and nature of specific
distinctions among plants and animals. Those who believed in the
doctrine of Buffon and of the 'Zoonomia' and those who disbelieved in
it, alike, were profoundly interested and agitated in soul by the
far-reaching implications of that fundamental problem. On every side
evolutionism, in its crude form, was already in the air. Long before
Charles Darwin himself published his conclusive 'Origin of Species,'
every thinking mind in the world of science, elder and younger, was
deeply engaged upon the self-same problem. Lyell and Horner in alternate
fits were doubting and debating. Herbert Spencer had already frankly
accepted the new idea with the profound conviction of _a priori_
reasoning. Agassiz was hesitating and raising difficulties. Treviranus
was ardently proclaiming his unflinching adhesion. Oken was spinning in
metaphysical Germany his fanciful parodies of the Lamarckian
hypothesis. Among the depths of Brazilian forests Bates was reading the
story of evolution on the gauze-like wings of tropical butterflies.
Under the scanty shade of Malayan palm-trees Wallace was independently
spelling out in rude outline the very theory of survival of the fittest,
which Charles Darwin himself was simultaneously perfecting and polishing
among the memoirs and pamphlets of his English study. Wollaston in
Madeira was pointing out the strange adaptations of the curious local
snails and beetles. Von Buch in the Canaries was coming to the
conclusion that varieties may be slowly changed into permanent species.
Lecoq and Von Baer were gradually arriving, one by the botanical route,
the other by the embryological, at the same opinion. Before Charles
Darwin was twenty, Dean Herbert had declared from the profound depth of
his horticultural knowledge that kinds were only mere fixed sports; and
Patrick Matthew, in the appendix to a work on 'Naval Timber,' had
casually developed, without perceiving its importance, the actual
distinctive Darwinian doctrine of natural selection. Robert Chambers
published in 1844 his 'Vestiges of Creation,' in which Lamarck's theory
was impressed and popularised under a somewhat spoilt and mistaken form:
it was not till 1859 that the first edition of the 'Origin of Species'
burst like a thunderbolt upon the astonished world of unprepared and
unscientific thinkers.

This general attitude of interest and inquiry is of deep importance to
the proper comprehension of Charles Darwin's life and work, and that for
two distinct reasons. In the first place, the universal stir and deep
prying into evolutionary questions which everywhere existed among
scientific men in his early days was naturally communicated to a lad
born of a scientific family, and inheriting directly in blood and bone
the biological tastes and tendencies of Erasmus Darwin. In the second
place, the existence of such a deep and wide-spread curiosity as to
ultimate origins, and the common prevalence of profound uniformitarian
and evolutionary views among philosophers and thinkers, made the
acceptance of Charles Darwin's particular theory, when it at last
arrived, a comparatively easy and certain matter, because by it the
course of organic development was assimilated, on credible grounds, to
the course of all other development in general, as then already widely
recognised. The first consideration helps us to account in part for the
man himself; the second consideration helps us even more to account for
the great work which he was enabled in the end so successfully to



From the environment let us turn to the individual; from the world in
which the man moved to the man who moved in it, and was in time destined
to move it.

Who was he, and whence did he derive his exceptional energy and
intellectual panoply?

Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather, the first of the line in whom the
distinctive Darwinian strain of intellect overtly displayed itself, was
the son of one Robert Darwin, a gentleman of Nottinghamshire, 'a person
of curiosity,' with 'a taste for literature and science;' so that for
four generations at least, in the paternal line, the peculiar talents of
the Darwin family had been highly cultivated in either direction. Robert
Darwin was an early member of the Spalding Club, a friend of Stukeley
the antiquary, and an embryo geologist, after the fantastic,
half-superstitious fashion of his own time. Of his four sons, both
Robert, the eldest, and Erasmus, the youngest, were authors and
botanists. Erasmus himself was a Cambridge man, and his natural bent of
mind and energy led him irresistibly on to the study of medicine. Taking
his medical degree at his own university, and afterwards preparing for
practice by attending Hunter's lectures in London, besides going
through the regular medical course at Edinburgh, the young doctor
finally settled down as a physician at Nottingham, whence shortly
afterward he removed to Lichfield, then the centre of a famous literary
coterie. So large a part of Charles Darwin's remarkable idiosyncrasy was
derived by heredity from his paternal grandfather, that it may be worth
while to dwell a little here in passing on the character and career of
this brilliant precursor of the great evolutionist. Both in the physical
and in the spiritual sense, Erasmus Darwin was one among the truest and
most genuine ancestors of his grandson Charles.

A powerful, robust, athletic man, in florid health and of temperate
habits, yet with the full-blooded tendency of the eighteenth century
vividly displayed in his ample face and broad features, Erasmus Darwin
bubbled over with irrepressible vivacity, the outward and visible sign
of that overflowing energy which forms everywhere one of the most marked
determining conditions of high genius. Strong in body and strong in
mind, a teetotaler before teetotalism, an abolitionist before the
anti-slavery movement, he had a great contempt for weaknesses and
prejudices of every sort, and he rose far superior to the age in which
he lived in breadth of view and freedom from preconceptions. The
eighteenth century considered him, in its cautious, cut-and-dried
fashion, a man of singular talent but of remarkably eccentric and unsafe
opinions. Unfortunately for his lasting fame, Dr. Darwin was much given
to writing poetry; and this poetry, though as ingenious as everything
else he did, had a certain false gallop of verse about it which has
doomed it to become since Canning's parody a sort of warning beacon
against the worst faults of the post-Augustan decadence in the
ten-syllabled metre. Nobody now reads the 'Botanic Garden' except either
to laugh at its exquisite extravagances, or to wonder at the queer
tinsel glitter of its occasional clever rhetorical rhapsodies.

But in his alternative character of philosophic biologist, rejected by
the age which swallowed his poetry all applausive, Erasmus Darwin is
well worthy of the highest and deepest respect, as a prime founder and
early prophet of the evolutionary system. His 'Zoonomia,' 'which, though
ingenious, is built upon the most absurd hypothesis'--as men still said
only thirty years ago--contains in the germ the whole theory of organic
development as understood up to the very moment of the publication of
the 'Origin of Species.' In it Dr. Darwin calls attention to 'the great
changes introduced into various animals by artificial or accidental
cultivation,' a subject afterwards fully elucidated by his greater
grandson in his work on 'The Variation of Animals and Plants under
Domestication.' He specially notes 'the immense changes of shape and
colour' produced by man in rabbits and pigeons, the very species on
which Charles Darwin subsequently made some of his most remarkable and
interesting observations. More than any previous writer, Erasmus Darwin,
with 'prophetic sagacity,' insisted strongly on the essential unity of
parent and offspring--a truth which lies at the very base of all modern
philosophical biology. 'Owing to the imperfection of language,' wrote
the Lichfield doctor nearly a hundred years ago, 'the offspring is
termed a new animal, but is in truth a branch or elongation of the
parent, since a part of the embryon-animal is or was a part of the
parent, and therefore may retain some of the habits of the parent
system.' He laid peculiar stress upon the hereditary nature of some
acquired properties, such as the muscles of dancers or jugglers, and the
diseases incidental to special occupations. Nay, he even anticipated his
great descendant in pointing out that varieties are often produced at
first as mere 'sports' or accidental variations, as in the case of
six-fingered men, five-clawed fowls, or extra-toed cats, and are
afterwards handed down by heredity to succeeding generations. Charles
Darwin would have added that if these new stray peculiarities happened
to prove advantageous to the species they would be naturally favoured in
the struggle for existence, while if they proved disadvantageous, or
even neutral, they would die out at once or be bred out in the course of
a few crosses. That last truth of natural selection was the only
cardinal one in the evolutionary system on which Erasmus Darwin did not
actually forestall his more famous and greater namesake. For its full
perception, the discovery of Malthus had to be collated with the
speculations of Buffon.

'When we revolve in our minds,' says the eighteenth century prophet of
evolution, 'the great similarity of structure which obtains in all the
warm-blooded animals, as well quadrupeds, birds, and amphibious animals,
as in mankind; from the mouse and bat to the elephant and whale; one is
led to conclude that they have alike been produced from a similar living
filament. In some this filament in its advance to maturity has acquired
hands and fingers with a fine sense of touch, as in mankind. In others
it has acquired claws or talons, as in tigers and eagles. In others,
toes with an intervening web or membrane, as in seals and geese. In
others it has acquired cloven hoofs, as in cows and swine; and whole
hoofs in others, as in the horse: while in the bird kind this original
living filament has put forth wings instead of arms or legs, and
feathers instead of hair.' This is a very crude form of evolutionism
indeed, but it is leading up by gradual stages to the finished and
all-sided philosophy of physical life, which at last definitely
formulates itself through the mouth of Charles Darwin. We shall see
hereafter wherein Erasmus Darwin's conception of development chiefly
failed--in attributing evolution for the most part to the exertions and
endeavours of the animal itself, rather than to inevitable survival of
the fittest among innumerable spontaneous variations--but we must at
least conclude our glimpse of his pregnant and suggestive work by
quoting its great fundamental _apercu_:--'As the earth and ocean were
probably peopled with vegetable productions long before the existence of
animals, and many families of these animals long before other families
of them, shall we conjecture that one and the same kind of living
filament is and has been the cause of all organic life?'

A few lines from the 'Temple of Nature,' one of Erasmus Darwin's poetic
rhapsodies, containing his fully matured views on the origin of living
creatures, may be worth reproduction in further elucidation of his
philosophical position:--

     'Organic life beneath the shoreless waves
     Was born, and nursed in ocean's pearly caves;
     First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass.
     Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
     These, as successive generations bloom,
     New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume;
     Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
     And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.'

Have we not here the very beginnings of Charles Darwin? Do we not see,
in these profound and fundamental suggestions, not merely hints as to
the evolution of evolution, but also as to the evolution of the

On the other hand, though Erasmus Darwin defined a fool to his friend
Edgeworth as 'a man who never tried an experiment in his life,' he was
wanting himself in the rigorous and patient inductive habit which so
strikingly distinguished his grandson Charles. That trait, as we shall
presently see, the biological chief of the nineteenth century derived in
all probability from another root of his genealogical tree. Erasmus
Darwin gave us brilliant suggestions rather than cumulative proof: he
apologised in his 'Zoonomia' for 'many conjectures not supported by
accurate investigation or conclusive experiments,' Such an apology would
have been simply impossible to the painstaking spirit of his grandson

Erasmus Darwin was twice married. His first wife was Mary, daughter of
Mr. Charles Howard, of Lichfield, and it was her son, Robert Waring
Darwin, who became the father of our hero, Charles. It is fashionable to
say, in this and sundry other like cases, that the mental energy skips a
generation. People have said so in the case of that intermediate
Mendelssohn who was son of Moses Mendelssohn, the philosopher, and
father of Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn, the composer--that mere link in a
marvellous chain who was wont to observe of himself in the decline of
life, that in his youth he was called the son of the great Mendelssohn,
and in his old age the father of the great Mendelssohn. As a matter of
fact, one may fairly doubt whether such a case of actual skipping is
ever possible in the nature of things. In the particular instance of
Robert Waring Darwin at least we may be pretty sure that the distinctive
Darwinian strain of genius lay merely latent rather than dormant: that
it did not display itself to the world at large, but that it persisted
silently as powerful as ever within the remote recesses of the thinking
organism. Not every man brings out before men all that is within him.
Robert Waring Darwin was a physician at Shrewsbury; and he attained at
least sufficient scientific eminence in his own time to become a Fellow
of the Royal Society, in days when that honour was certainly not readily
conferred upon country doctors of modest reputation. Charles Darwin says
of him plainly, 'He was incomparably the most acute observer whom I ever
knew.' It may well have been that Robert Darwin lived and died, as his
famous son lived for fifty years of his great life, in comparative
silence and learned retirement; for we must never forget that if Charles
Darwin had only completed the first half century of his laborious
existence, he would have been remembered merely as the author of an
entertaining work on the voyage of the 'Beagle,' a plausible theory of
coral islands, and a learned monograph on the fossil barnacles. During
all those years, in fact, he had really done little else than collect
material for the work of his lifetime. If we judge men by outward
performance only, we may often be greatly mistaken in our estimates:
potentiality is wider than actuality; what a man does is never a certain
or extreme criterion of what he can do.

The Darwins, indeed, were all a mighty folk, of varied powers and varied
attainments. Erasmus's brother, Robert, was the author of a work on
botany, which long enjoyed a respectable repute. Of his sons, one, Sir
Francis Darwin, was noted as a keen observer of animals; a second,
Charles, who died at twenty-one, was already the author of a very
valuable medical essay; while the third, Robert, was the Shrewsbury
F.R.S., the father of our great evolutionary thinker. And among Charles
Darwin's own cousins, one is Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood, the philologist; a
second was the late Sir Henry Holland; and a third is Mr. Francis
Galton, the author of that essentially Darwinian book, 'Hereditary

Robert Waring Darwin took to himself a wife from another very great and
eminent family. He married Susannah Wedgwood, daughter of Josiah
Wedgwood, the famous potter; and from these two silent representatives
of powerful stocks, Charles Robert Darwin, the father of modern
evolutionary biology, was born at Shrewsbury, on February the 12th,
1809. That Wedgwood connection, again, is no mere casual or unimportant
incident in the previous life-history of the Darwinian originality; it
throws a separate clear light of its own upon the peculiar and
admirably compounded idiosyncrasy of Charles Darwin.

A man, indeed, owes on the average quite as much to his mother's as to
his father's family. It is a mere unscientific old-world prejudice which
makes us for the most part count ancestry in the direct ascending male
line alone, to the complete neglect of the equally important maternal
pedigree. Prom the biological point of view, at least, every individual
is a highly complex compound of hereditary elements, a resultant of
numerous converging forces, a meeting place of two great streams of
inheritance, each of which is itself similarly made up by the like
confluence of innumerable distinct prior tributaries. Between these two
it is almost impossible for us accurately to distribute any given
individuality. How much Charles Darwin owed to the Darwins, and how much
he owed in turn to the Wedgwoods, no man is yet psychologist enough or
physiologist enough to say. But that he owed a great deal to either
strong and vigorous strain we may even now quite safely take for

The Wedgwood family were 'throwers' by handicraft, superior artisans
long settled at Burslem, in the Staffordshire potteries. Josiah, the
youngest of thirteen children, lamed by illness in early life, was
turned by this happy accident from his primitive task as a 'thrower' to
the more artistic and original work of producing ornamental coloured
earthenware. Skilful and indefatigable, of indomitable energy and with
great powers of forcing his way in life against all obstacles, young
Wedgwood rose rapidly by his own unaided exertions to be a master
potter, and a manufacturer of the famous unglazed black porcelain.
Those were the darkest days of industrial art and decorative handicraft
in modern England. Josiah Wedgwood, by his marked originality and force
of character, succeeded in turning the current of national taste, and
creating among us a new and distinctly higher type of artistic
workmanship. His activity, however, was not confined to his art alone,
but found itself a hundred other different outlets in the most varied
directions. When his potteries needed enlargement to meet the increased
demand, he founded for the hands employed upon his works the model
industrial village of Etruria. When Brindley began cutting artificial
waterways across the broad face of central England, it was in the great
potter that he found his chief ally in promoting the construction of the
Grand Trunk Canal. Wedgwood, indeed, was a builder of schools and a
maker of roads; a chemist and an artist; a friend of Watt and an
employer of Flaxman. In short, like Erasmus Darwin, he possessed that
prime essential in the character of genius, an immense underlying stock
of energy. And with it there went its best concomitant, the 'infinite
capacity for taking pains.' Is it not probable that in their joint
descendant, the brilliant but discursive and hazardous genius of Erasmus
Darwin was balanced and regulated by soberer qualities inherited
directly from the profound industry of the painstaking potter? When
later on we find Charles Darwin spending hours in noting the successive
movements of the tendrils in a plant, or watching for long years the
habits and manners of earthworms in flower-pots, may we not reasonably
conjecture that he derived no little share of his extraordinary
patience, carefulness, and minuteness of handicraft from his mother's
father, Josiah Wedgwood?

Such, then, were the two main component elements, paternal and maternal,
from which the striking personality of Charles Darwin was no doubt for
the most part ultimately built up.



As the Chester express steams out of Shrewsbury station, you see on your
left, overhanging the steep bank of Severn, a large, square,
substantial-looking house, known as the Mount, the birthplace of the
author of the 'Origin of Species.' There, in the comfortable home he had
built for himself, Dr. Robert Darwin, the father, lived and worked for
fifty years of unobtrusive usefulness. He had studied medicine at
Edinburgh and Leyden, and had even travelled a little in Germany, before
he settled down in the quiet old Salopian town, where for half a century
his portly figure and yellow chaise were familiar objects of the
country-side for miles around. Among a literary society which included
Coleridge's friends, the Tayleurs, and where Hazlitt listened with
delight to the great poet's 'music of the spheres,' in High Street
Unitarian Chapel, the Mount kept up with becoming dignity the family
traditions of the Darwins and the Wedgwoods as a local centre of
sweetness and light.

On February the 12th, 1809, Charles Darwin first saw the light of day in
this his father's house at Shrewsbury. Time and place were both
propitious. Born in a cultivated scientific family, surrounded from his
birth by elevating influences, and secured beforehand from the cramping
necessity of earning his own livelihood by his own exertions, the boy
was destined to grow up to full maturity in the twenty-one years of slow
development that immediately preceded the passing of the first Reform
Act. The thunder of the great European upheaval had grown silent at
Waterloo when he was barely six years old, and his boyhood was passed
amid country sights and sounds during that long period of reconstruction
and assimilation which followed the fierce volcanic outburst of the
French Revolution. Happy in the opportunity of his birth, he came upon
the world eight years after the first publication of Lamarck's
remarkable speculations, and for the first twenty-two years of his life
he was actually the far younger contemporary of the great French
evolutionary philosopher. Eleven years before his arrival upon the scene
Malthus had set forth his 'Principle of Population.' Charles Darwin thus
entered upon a stage well prepared for him, and he entered it with an
idiosyncrasy exactly adapted for making the best of the situation. The
soil had been thoroughly turned and dressed beforehand: Charles Darwin's
seed had only to fall upon it in order to spring up and bear fruit a
hundredfold, in every field of science or speculation.

For it was not biology alone that he was foredoomed to revolutionise,
but the whole range of human thought, and perhaps even ultimately of
human action.

Is it mere national prejudice which makes one add with congratulatory
pleasure that Darwin was born in England, rather than in France, in
Germany, or in America? Perhaps so; perhaps not. For the English
intellect does indeed seem more capable than most of uniting high
speculative ability with high practical skill and experience: and of
that union of rare qualities Darwin himself was a most conspicuous
example. It is probable that England has produced more of the great
organising and systematising intellects than any other modern country.

Among those thinkers in his own line who stood more nearly abreast of
Darwin in the matter of age, Lyell was some eleven years his senior, and
contributed not a little (though quite unconsciously) by his work and
conclusions to the formation of Darwin's own peculiar scientific
opinions. The veteran Owen, who still survives him, was nearly five
years older than Darwin, and also helped to a great extent in giving
form and exactness to his great contemporary's anatomical ideas.
Humboldt, who preceded our English naturalist in the matter of time by
no less than forty years, might yet almost rank as coeval in some
respects, owing to his long and active life, his late maturity, and the
very recent date of his greatest and most thought-compelling work, the
'Cosmos' (begun when Humboldt was seventy-five, and finished when he
lacked but ten years of his century), in itself a sort of preparation
for due acceptance of the Darwinian theories. In fact, as many as fifty
years of their joint lives coincided entirely one with the other's.
Agassiz antedated Darwin by two years. On the other hand, among the men
who most helped on the recognition of Darwin's theories, Hooker and
Lewes were his juniors by eight years, Herbert Spencer by eleven,
Wallace by thirteen, and Huxley by sixteen. His cousin, Francis Galton,
another grandson of Erasmus Darwin, and joint inheritor of the
distinctive family biological ply, was born at the same date as Alfred
Russell Wallace, thirteen years after Charles Darwin. In such a goodly
galaxy of workers was the Darwinian light destined to shine through the
middle of the century, as one star excelleth another in glory.

Charles Darwin was the second son: but nature refuses doggedly to
acknowledge the custom of primogeniture. His elder brother, Erasmus, a
man of mute and inarticulate ability, with a sardonic humour alien to
his race, extorted unwonted praise from the critical pen of Thomas
Carlyle, who 'for intellect rather preferred him to his brother
Charles.' But whatever spark of the Darwinian genius was really innate
in Erasmus the Less died with him unacknowledged.

The boy was educated (so they call it) at Shrewsbury Grammar School,
under sturdy Sam Butler, afterwards Bishop of Lichfield; and there he
picked up so much Latin and Greek as was then considered absolutely
essential to the due production of an English gentleman. Happily for the
world, having no taste for the classics, he escaped the ordeal with
little injury to his individuality. His mother had died while he was
still a child, but his father, that 'acute observer,' no doubt taught
him to know and love nature. At sixteen he went to Edinburgh University,
then rendered famous by a little knot of distinguished professors, and
there he remained for two years. Already at school he had made himself
notable by his love of collecting--the first nascent symptom of the
naturalist bent. He collected everything, shells, eggs, minerals,
coins, nay, since postage stamps were then not yet invented, even
franks. But at Edinburgh he gave the earliest distinct evidence of his
definite scientific tastes by contributing to the local academic society
a paper on the floating eggs of the common sea-mat, in which he had even
then succeeded in discovering for the first time organs of locomotion.
Thence he proceeded to Christ's College, Cambridge. The Darwins were
luckily a Cambridge family: luckily, let us say, for had it been
otherwise--had young Darwin been distorted from his native bent by Plato
and Aristotle, and plunged deep into the mysteries of Barbara and
Celarent, as would infallibly have happened to him at the sister
university--who can tell how long we might have had to wait in vain for
the 'Origin of Species' and the 'Descent of Man'? But Cambridge, which
rejoiced already in the glory of Newton, was now to match it by the
glory of Darwin. In its academical course, the mathematical wedge had
always kept open a dim passage for physical science; and at the exact
moment when Darwin was an undergraduate at Christ's--from 1827 to
1831--the university had the advantage of several good scientific
teachers, and amongst them one, Professor Henslow, a well-known
botanist, who took a special interest in young Darwin's intellectual
development. There, too, he met with Sedgwick, Airy, Ramsay, and
numerous other men of science, whose intercourse with him must no doubt
have contributed largely to mould and form the future cast of his
peculiar philosophical idiosyncrasy.

It was to Henslow's influence that Darwin in later years attributed in
great part his powerful taste for natural history. But in truth the
ascription of such high praise to his early teacher smacks too much of
the Darwinian modesty to be accepted at once without demur by the candid
critic. The naturalist, like the poet, is born, not made. How much more,
then, must this needs be the case with the grandson of Erasmus Darwin
and of Josiah Wedgwood? As a matter of fact, already at Edinburgh the
lad had loved to spend his days among the sea-beasts and wrack of the
Inches in the Firth of Forth; and it was through the instrumentality of
his 'brother entomologists' that he first became acquainted with Henslow
himself when he removed to Cambridge. The good professor could not make
him into a naturalist: inherited tendencies and native energies had done
that for him already from his very cradle.

'Doctrina sed vim promovet insitam;' and it was well that Darwin took up
at Cambridge with the study of geology as his first love. For geology
was then the living and moving science, as astronomy had been in the
sixteenth century, and as biology is at the present day--the
growing-point, so to speak, of European development, whence all great
things might naturally be expected. Moreover, it was and is the central
science of the concrete class, having relations with astronomy on the
one hand, and with biology on the other; concerned alike with cosmical
chances or changes on this side, and with the minutest facts of organic
nature on that; the meeting-place and border-land of all the separate
branches of study that finally bear upon the complex problems of our
human life. No other subject of investigation was so well calculated to
rouse Darwin's interest in the ultimate questions of evolution or
creation, of sudden cataclysm or gradual growth, of miraculous
intervention or slow development. Here, if anywhere, his enigmas were
all clearly propounded to him by the inarticulate stony sphinxes; he had
only to riddle them out for himself as he went along in after years with
the aid of the successive side-lights thrown upon the world by the
unconnected lanterns of Lamarck and of Malthus.

Fortunately for us, then, Darwin did not waste his time at Cambridge
over the vain and frivolous pursuits of the classical tripos. He
preferred to work at his own subjects in his own way, and to leave the
short-lived honours of the schools to those who cared for them and for
nothing higher. He came out with the _oi polloi_ in 1831, and
thenceforth proceeded to study life in the wider university for which
his natural inclinations more properly fitted him. The world was all
before him where to choose, and he chose that better part which shall
not be taken away from him as long as the very memory of science



Scarcely had Darwin taken his pass degree at Cambridge when the great
event of his life occurred which, more than anything else perhaps, gave
the final direction to his categorical genius in the line it was
thenceforth so successfully to follow. In the autumn of 1831, when
Darwin was just twenty-two, it was decided by Government to send a
ten-gun brig, the 'Beagle,' under command of Captain Fitzroy, to
complete the unfinished survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, to map
out the shores of Chili and Peru, to visit several of the Pacific
archipelagoes, and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round
the whole world. This was an essentially scientific expedition, and
Captain Fitzroy, afterwards so famous as the meteorological admiral, was
a scientific officer of the highest type. He was anxious to be
accompanied on his cruise by a competent naturalist who would undertake
the collection and preservation of the animals and plants discovered on
the voyage, for which purpose he generously offered to give up a share
of his own cabin accommodation. Professor Henslow seized upon the
opportunity to recommend for the post his promising pupil, young Darwin,
'grandson of the poet.' Darwin gladly volunteered his services without
salary, and partly paid his own expenses on condition of being permitted
to retain in his own possession the animals and plants he collected on
the journey. The 'Beagle' set sail from Devonport on December the 27th,
1831; she returned to Falmouth on October the 2nd, 1836.

That long five years' cruise around the world, the journal of which
Darwin has left us in the 'Voyage of the "Beagle,"' proved a marvellous
epoch in the great naturalist's quiet career. It left its abiding mark
deeply imprinted on all his subsequent life and thinking. Lamarck and
Erasmus Darwin were cabinet biologists, who had never beheld with their
own eyes the great round world and all that therein is; Charles Darwin
had the inestimable privilege of seeing for himself, at first hand, a
large part of the entire globe and of the creatures that inhabit it.
Even to have caught one passing glimpse of the teeming life of the
tropics is in itself an education; to the naturalist it is more, it is a
revelation. Our starved little northern fauna and flora, the mere
leavings of the vast ice sheets that spread across our zone in the
glacial epoch, show us a world depopulated of all its largest,
strangest, and fiercest creatures; a world dwarfed in all its component
elements, and immensely differing in ten thousand ways from that rich,
luxuriant, over-stocked hot-house in which the first great problems of
evolution were practically worked out by survival of the fittest. But
the tropics preserve for us still in all their jungles something of the
tangled, thickly-peopled aspect which our planet must have presented for
countless ages in all latitudes before the advent of primaeval man. We
now know that throughout the greater part of geological time,
essentially tropical conditions existed unbroken over the whole surface
of the entire earth, from the Antarctic continent to the shores of
Greenland; so that some immediate acquaintance at least with the
equatorial world is of immense value to the philosophical naturalist for
the sake of the analogies it inevitably suggests; and it is a
significant fact that almost all those great and fruitful thinkers who
in our own time have done good work in the wider combination of
biological facts have themselves passed a considerable number of years
in investigating the conditions of tropical nature. Europe and England
are at the ends of the earth; the tropics are biological head-quarters.
The equatorial zone is therefore the true school for the historian of
life in its more universal and lasting aspects.

Nor was that all. The particular countries visited by the 'Beagle'
during the course of her long and varied cruise happened to be exactly
such as were naturally best adapted for bringing out the latent
potentialities of Darwin's mind, and suggesting to his active and
receptive brain those deep problems of life and its environment which he
afterwards wrought out with such subtle skill and such consummate
patience in the 'Origin of Species' and the 'Descent of Man.' The Cape
de Verdes, and the other Atlantic islands, with their scanty population
of plants and animals, composed for the most part of waifs and strays
drifted to their barren rocks by ocean currents, or blown out helplessly
to sea by heavy winds; Brazil, with its marvellous contrasting wealth of
tropical luxuriance and self-strangling fertility, a new province of
interminable delights to the soul of the enthusiastic young collector;
the South American pampas, with their colossal remains of extinct
animals, huge geological precursors of the stunted modern sloths and
armadillos that still inhabit the self-same plains; Tierra del Fuego,
with its almost Arctic climate, and its glimpses into the secrets of the
most degraded savage types; the vast range of the Andes and the
Cordilleras, with their volcanic energy and their closely crowded
horizontal belts of climatic life; the South Sea Islands, those
paradises of the Pacific, Hesperian fables true, alike for the lover of
the picturesque and the biological student; Australia, that surviving
fragment of an extinct world, with an antiquated fauna whose archaic
character still closely recalls the European life of ten million years
back in the secondary epoch: all these and many others equally novel and
equally instructive passed in long alternating panorama before Darwin's
eyes, and left their images deeply photographed for ever after on the
lasting tablets of his retentive memory. That was the real great
university in which he studied nature and read for his degree. Our
evolutionist was now being educated.

Throughout the whole of the journal of this long cruise, which Darwin
afterwards published in an enlarged form, it is impossible not to be
struck at every turn with the way in which his inquisitive mind again
and again recurs to the prime elements of those great problems towards
whose solution he afterwards so successfully pointed out the path. The
Darwinian ideas are all already there in the germ; the embryo form of
the 'Origin of Species' plays in and out on every page with the
quaintest elusiveness. We are always just on the very point of catching
it; and every now and again we do actually all but catch it in essence
and spirit, though ever still its bodily shape persistently evades us.
Questions of geographical distribution, of geological continuity, of the
influence of climate, of the modifiability of instinct, of the effects
of surrounding conditions, absorb the young observer's vivid interest at
every step, wherever he lands. He is all unconsciously collecting notes
and materials in profuse abundance for his great work; he is thinking in
rough outline the new thoughts which are hereafter to revolutionise the
thought of humanity.

Five years are a great slice out of a man's life: those five years of
ceaseless wandering by sea and land were spent by Charles Darwin in
accumulating endless observations and hints for the settlement of the
profound fundamental problems in which he was even then so deeply
interested. The 'Beagle' sailed from England to the Cape de Verdes, and
already, even before she had touched her first land, the young
naturalist had observed with interest that the impalpably fine dust
which fell on deck contained no less than sixty-seven distinct organic
forms, two of them belonging to species peculiar to South America. In
some of the dust he found particles of stone so very big that they
measured 'above the thousandth of an inch square;' and after this fact,
says the keen student, 'one need not be surprised at the diffusion of
the far lighter and smaller sporules of cryptogamic plants.' Would
Erasmus Darwin have noticed these minute points and their implications
one wonders? Probably not. May we not see in the observation partly the
hereditary tendencies of Josiah Wedgwood towards minute investigation
and accuracy of detail, partly the influence of the scientific
time-wave, and the careful training under Professor Henslow? Erasmus
Darwin comes before us rather as the brilliant and ingenious amateur,
his grandson Charles as the instructed and fully equipped final product
of the scientific schools.

At St. Paul's Rocks, once more, a mass of new volcanic peaks rising
abruptly from the midst of the Atlantic, the naturalist of the 'Beagle'
notes with interest that feather and dirt-feeding and parasitic insects
or spiders are the first inhabitants to take up their quarters on
recently formed oceanic islands. This problem of the peopling of new
lands, indeed, so closely connected with the evolution of new species,
necessarily obtruded itself upon his attention again and again during
his five years' cruise; and in some cases, especially that of the
Galapagos Islands, the curious insular faunas and floras which he
observed upon this trip, composed as they were of mere casual straylings
from adjacent shores, produced upon his mind a very deep and lasting
impression, whose traces one may without difficulty discern on every
second page of the 'Origin of Species.'

On the last day of February, 1832, the 'Beagle' came to anchor in the
harbour of Bahia, and young Darwin caught sight for the first time of
the mutually strangling luxuriance of tropical vegetation. Nowhere on
earth are the finest conditions of tropical life more fully realised
than in the tangled depths of the great uncleared Brazilian forests,
which everywhere gird round like a natural palisade with their
impenetrable belt the narrow and laborious clearings of over-mastered
man. The rich alluvial silt of mighty river systems, the immemorial
manuring of the virgin soil, the fierce energy of an almost equatorial
sun, and the universal presence of abundant water, combine to make life
in that marvellous region unusually wealthy, varied, and crowded, so
that the struggle for existence is there perhaps more directly visible
to the seeing eye than in any other known portion of God's universe.
'Delight itself,' says Darwin in his journal, with that naive simplicity
which everywhere forms the chief charm of his direct and unaffected
literary style--'delight itself is a weak term to express the feelings
of a naturalist who for the first time has wandered by himself in a
Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the
parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the
foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled
me with admiration.' In truth, among those huge buttressed trunks,
overhung by the unbroken canopy of foliage on the vast spreading and
interlacing branches, festooned with lianas and drooping lichens, or
beautified by the pendent alien growth of perfumed orchids, Darwin's
mind must indeed have found congenial food for apt reflection, and
infinite opportunities for inference and induction. Prom the mere
picturesque point of view, indeed, the naturalist enjoys such sights as
this a thousand times more truly and profoundly than the mere casual
unskilled observer: for it is a shallow, self-flattering mistake of
vulgar and narrow minds to suppose that fuller knowledge and clearer
insight can destroy or impair the beauty of beautiful objects--as who
should imagine that a great painter appreciates the sunset less than a
silly boy or a sentimental schoolgirl. As a matter of fact, the
naturalist knows and admires a thousand exquisite points of detail in
every flower and every insect which only he himself and the true artist
can equally delight in. And a keen intellectual and aesthetic joy in the
glorious fecundity and loveliness of nature was everywhere present to
Darwin's mind. But, beyond and above even that, there was also the
architectonic delight of the great organiser in the presence of a noble
organised product: the peculiar pleasure felt only by the man in whose
broader soul all minor details fall at once into their proper place, as
component elements in one great consistent and harmonious whole--a
sympathetic pleasure akin to that with which an architect views the
interior of Ely and of Lincoln, or a musician listens to the linked
harmonies of the 'Messiah' and the 'Creation.' The scheme of nature was
now unfolding itself visibly and clearly before Charles Darwin's very

After eighteen memorable days spent with unceasing delight at Bahia, the
'Beagle' sailed again for Rio, where Darwin stopped for three months, to
improve his acquaintance with the extraordinary wealth of the South
American fauna and flora. Collecting insects was here his chief
occupation, and it is interesting to note even at this early period how
his attention was attracted by some of those strange alluring devices on
the part of the males for charming their partners which afterwards
formed the principal basis for his admirable theory of sexual selection,
so fully developed in the 'Descent of Man.' 'Several times,' he says,
'when a pair [of butterflies], probably male and female, were chasing
each other in an irregular course, they passed within a few yards of me;
and I distinctly heard a clicking noise, similar to that produced by a
toothed wheel passing under a spring catch.' In like manner he observed
here the instincts of tropical ants, the habits of phosphorescent
insects, and the horrid practice of that wasp-like creature, the sphex,
which stuffs the clay cells of its larvae full of half-dead spiders and
writhing caterpillars, so stung with devilish avoidance of vital parts
as to be left quite paralysed yet still alive, as future food for the
developing grubs. Cases like these helped naturally to shake the young
biologist's primitive faith in the cheap and crude current theories of
universal beneficence, and to introduce that wholesome sceptical
reaction against received dogma which is the necessary groundwork and
due preparation for all great progressive philosophical thinking.

In July they set sail again for Monte Video, where the important
question of climate and vegetation began to interest young Darwin's
mind. Uruguay is almost entirely treeless; and this curious phenomenon,
in a comparatively moist sub-tropical plain-land, struck him as a
remarkable anomaly, and set him speculating on its probable cause.
Australia, he remembered, was far more arid, and yet its interior was
everywhere covered by whole forests of quaint indigenous gum-trees.
Could it be that there were no trees adapted to the climate? As yet, the
true causes of geographical distribution had not clearly dawned upon
Darwin's mind; but that a young man of twenty-three should seriously
busy himself about such problems of ultimate causation at all is in
itself a sufficiently pointed and remarkable phenomenon. It was here,
too, that he first saw that curious animal, the Tucutuco, a true rodent
with the habits of a mole, which is almost always found in a blind
condition. With reference to this singular creature, there occurs in his
journal one of those interesting anticipatory passages which show the
rough workings of the distinctive evolutionary Darwinian concept in its
earlier stages. 'Considering the strictly subterranean habits of the
Tucutuco,' he writes, 'the blindness, though so common, cannot be a very
serious evil; yet it appears strange that any animal should possess an
organ frequently subject to be injured. Lamarck would have been
delighted with this fact, had he known it, when speculating (probably
with more truth than usual with him) on the gradually acquired blindness
of the Aspalax, a gnawer living under the ground, and of the Proteus, a
reptile living in dark caverns filled with water; in both of which
animals the eye is in an almost rudimentary state, and is covered by a
tendinous membrane and skin. In the common mole the eye is
extraordinarily small but perfect, though many anatomists doubt whether
it is connected with the true optic nerve; its vision must certainly be
imperfect, though probably useful to the animal when it leaves its
burrow. In the Tucutuco, which I believe never comes to the surface of
the ground, the eye is rather larger, but often rendered blind and
useless, though without apparently causing any inconvenience to the
animal: no doubt Lamarck would have said that the Tucutuco is now
passing into the state of the Aspalax and Proteus.' The passage is
instructive both as showing that Darwin was already familiar with
Lamarck's writings, and as pointing out the natural course of his own
future development.

For the two years from her arrival at Monte Video, the 'Beagle' was
employed in surveying the eastern coast of South America; and Darwin
enjoyed unusual opportunities for studying the geology, the zoology, and
the botany of the surrounding districts during all that period. It was a
suggestive field indeed for the young naturalist. The curious
relationship of the gigantic fossil armour-plated animals to the
existing armadillo, of the huge megatherium to the modern sloths, and of
the colossal ant-eaters to their degenerate descendants at the present
day, formed one of the direct inciting causes to the special study which
produced at last the 'Origin of Species.' In the Introduction to that
immortal work Darwin wrote, some twenty-seven years later, 'When on
board H.M.S. "Beagle" as naturalist, I was much struck with certain
facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South
America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past
inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the
latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin
of species--that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of
our greatest philosophers.' And in the body of the work itself he refers
over and over again to numberless observations made by himself during
this period of rapid psychological development--observations on the
absence of recent geological formations along the lately upheaved South
American coast; on the strange extinction of the horse in La Plata; on
the affinities of the extinct and recent species; on the effect of
minute individual peculiarities in preserving life under special
circumstances; and on the influence of insects and blood-sucking bats in
determining the existence of the larger naturalised mammals in parts of
Brazil and the Argentine Republic. It was the epoch of wide collection
of facts, to be afterwards employed in brilliant generalisations: the
materials for the 'Origin of Species' were being slowly accumulated in
the numberless pigeon-holes of the Darwinian memory.

Among the facts thus industriously gathered by Darwin in the two years
spent on the South American coast were several curious instincts of the
cuckoo-like molothrus, of the owl of the Pampas, and of the American
ostrich. A few sentences scattered here and there through this part of
the 'Naturalist's Journal' may well be extracted in the present place as
showing, better than any mere secondhand description could do, the slow
germinating process of the 'Origin of Species.' In speaking of the
toxodon, that strange extinct South American mammal, the young author
remarks acutely that, though in size it equalled the elephant and the
megatherium, the structure of its teeth shows it to be closely allied to
the ruminants, while several other details link it to the pachyderms,
and its aquatic peculiarities of ear and nostril approximate it rather
to the manatee and the dugong. 'How wonderfully,' he says, 'are the
different orders, at the present time so well separated, blended
together in different points of the structure of the toxodon.' We now
know that unspecialised ancestral forms always display this close union
of peculiarities afterwards separately developed in distinct species of
their later descendants.

Still more pregnant with evolutionism in the bud is the prophetic remark
about a certain singular group of South American birds, 'This small
family is one of those which, from its varied relations to other
families, although at present offering only difficulties to the
systematic naturalist, ultimately may assist in revealing the grand
scheme, common to the present and past ages, on which organised beings
have been created.' Of the agouti, once more, that true friend of the
desert, Darwin notes that it does not now range as far south as Port St.
Julian, though Wood in 1670 found it abundant there; and he asks
suggestively, 'What cause can have altered, in a wide, uninhabited, and
rarely visited country, the range of an animal like this?' Again, when
speaking of the analogies between the extinct camel-like macrauchenia
and the modern guanaco, as well as of those between the fossil and
living species of South American rodents, he says, with even more
prophetic insight, 'This wonderful relationship in the same continent
between the dead and the living will, I do not doubt, hereafter throw
more light on the appearance of organic beings on our earth, and their
disappearance from it, than any other class of facts.' He was himself
destined in another thirty years to prove the truth of his own

A yet more remarkable passage in the 'Journal of the "Beagle,"' though
entered under the account of events observed in the year 1834, must
almost certainly have been written somewhat later, and subsequently to
Darwin's first reading of Malthus's momentous work, 'The Principle of
Population,' which (as we know from his own pen) formed a cardinal point
in the great biologist's mental development. It runs as follows in the
published journal:[1]--'We do not steadily bear in mind how profoundly
ignorant we are of the conditions of existence of every animal; nor do
we always remember that some check is constantly preventing the too
rapid increase of every organised being left in a state of nature. The
supply of food, on an average, remains constant; yet the tendency in
every animal to increase by propagation is geometrical, and its
surprising effects have nowhere been more astonishingly shown than in
the case of the European animals run wild during the last few centuries
in America. Every animal in a state of nature regularly breeds; yet in a
species long established any great increase in numbers is obviously
impossible, and must be checked by some means.' Aut Malthus aut
Diabolus. And surely here, if anywhere at all, we tremble on the very
verge of natural selection.

It would be impossible to follow young Darwin in detail through his
journey to Buenos Ayres, and up the Parana to Santa Fe, which occupied
the autumn of 1833. In the succeeding year he visited Patagonia and the
Falkland Islands, having previously made his first acquaintance with
savage life among the naked Fuegians of the extreme southern point of
the continent. Some of these interesting natives, taken to England by
Captain Fitzroy on a former visit, had accompanied the 'Beagle' through
all her wanderings, and from them Darwin obtained that close insight
into the workings of savage human nature which he afterwards utilised
with such conspicuous ability in the 'Descent of Man.' Through
Magellan's Straits the party made their way up the coasts of Chili, and
Darwin had there an opportunity of investigating the geology and biology
of the Cordillera. The year 1835 was chiefly spent in that temperate
country and in tropical Peru; and as the autumn went on, the 'Beagle'
made her way across a belt of the Pacific to the Galapagos archipelago.

Small and unimportant as are those little equatorial islands from the
geographical and commercial point of view, they will yet remain for ever
classic ground to the biologists of the future from their close
connection with the master-problems of the 'Origin of Species.' Here
more, perhaps, than anywhere else the naturalist of the 'Beagle' found
himself face to face in real earnest with the ultimate questions of
creation or evolution. A group of tiny volcanic islets, never joined to
any land, nor even united to one another, yet each possessing its own
special zoological features--the Galapagos roused to an extraordinary
degree the irresistible questionings of Darwin's mind. They contain no
frogs, and no mammal save a mouse, brought to them, no doubt, by some
passing ship. The only insects are beetles, which possess peculiar
facilities for being transported in the egg or grub across salt water
upon floating logs. There are two kinds of snake, one tortoise, and four
lizards; but, in striking contrast to this extreme poverty of
terrestrial forms, there are at least fifty-five distinct species of
native birds. A few snails complete the list. Now most of these animals,
though closely resembling the fauna of Ecuador, the nearest mainland,
are specifically distinct; they have varied (as we now know) from their
continental types owing to natural selection under the new circumstances
in which they have been placed. But Darwin had not yet evolved that
potent key to the great riddle of organic existence. He saw the problem,
but not its solution. 'Most of the organic productions,' he says
plainly, 'are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a
difference between the inhabitants of the different islands: yet all
show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from
that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in
width.... Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more
astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their
confined range. Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the
boundaries of most of the lava-streams still distinct, we are led to
believe that within a period geologically recent the unbroken sea was
here spread out. Hence, both in space and time we seem to be brought
somewhat nearer to that great fact--that mystery of mysteries--the first
appearance of new beings on this earth.' Among the most singular of
these zoological facts may be mentioned the existence in the Galapagos
archipelago of a genus of gigantic and ugly lizard, the amblyrhyncus,
unknown elsewhere, but here assuming the forms of two species, the one
marine and the other terrestrial. In minuter points, the differences of
fauna and flora between the various islands are simply astounding, so as
to compel the idea that each form must necessarily have been developed
not merely for the group, but for the special island which it actually
inhabits. No wonder that Darwin should say in conclusion, 'One is
astonished at the amount of creative force, if such an expression may be
used, displayed on these small, barren, and rocky islands; and still
more so at its diverse, yet analogous, action on points so near each
other.' Here again, in real earnest, the young observer trembles visibly
on the very verge of natural selection. In the 'Origin of Species' he
makes full use, more than once, of the remarkable facts he observed with
so much interest in these tiny isolated oceanic specks of the American

From the Galapagos the 'Beagle' steered a straight course for Tahiti,
and Darwin then beheld with his own eyes the exquisite beauty of the
Polynesian Islands. Thence they sailed for New Zealand, the most truly
insular large mass of land in the whole world, supplied accordingly with
a fauna and flora of most surprising meagreness and poverty of species.
In the woods, our observer noted very few birds, and he remarks with
astonishment that so big an island--as large as Great Britain--should
not possess a single living indigenous mammal, save a solitary rat of
doubtful origin. Australia and Tasmania, with their antiquated and
stranded marsupial inhabitants, almost completed the round trip. Keeling
Island next afforded a basis for the future famous observations upon
coral reefs; and thence by Mauritius, St. Helena, Ascension, Bahia,
Pernambuco, and the beautiful Azores, the 'Beagle' made her way home by
slow stages to England, which she reached in safety on October the 2nd,
1836. What an ideal education for the future reconstructor of
biological science! He had now all his problems cut and dried, ready to
his hand, and he had nothing important left to do--except to sit down
quietly in his study, and proceed to solve them. Observation and
collection had given him one half the subject-matter of the 'Origin of
Species;' reflection and Malthus were to give him the other half. Never
had great mind a nobler chance; never, again, had noble chance a great
mind better adapted by nature and heredity to make the most of it. The
man was not wanting to the opportunity, nor was the opportunity wanting
to the man. Organism and environment fell together into perfect harmony;
and so, by a lucky combination of circumstances, the secret of the ages
was finally wrung from not unwilling nature by the far-seeing and
industrious volunteer naturalist of the 'Beagle' expedition.

It would be giving a very false idea of the interests which stirred
Charles Darwin's mind during his long five years' voyage, however, if we
were to dwell exclusively upon the biological side of his numerous
observations on that memorable cruise. Ethnology, geology, oceanic
phenomena, the height of the snow-line, the climate of the Antarctic
islands, the formation of icebergs, the transport of boulders, the
habits and manners engendered by slavery, all almost equally aroused in
their own way the young naturalist's vivid interest. Nowhere do we get
the faintest trace of narrow specialism; nowhere are we cramped within
the restricted horizon of the mere vulgar beetle-hunter and
butterfly-catcher. The biologist of the 'Beagle' had taken the whole
world of science for his special province. Darwin's mind with all its
vastness was not, indeed, profoundly analytical. The task of working out
the psychological and metaphysical aspects of evolution fell rather to
the great organising and systematising intellect of Herbert Spencer. But
within the realm of material fact, and of the widest possible inferences
based upon such fact, Darwin's keen and comprehensive spirit ranged
freely over the whole illimitable field of nature. 'No one,' says Buckle
with unwonted felicity, 'can have a firm grasp of any science if, by
confining himself to it, he shuts out the light of analogy. He may, no
doubt, work at the details of his subject; he may be useful in adding to
its facts; he will never be able to enlarge its philosophy. For the
philosophy of every department depends on its connection with other
departments, and must therefore be sought at their points of contact. It
must be looked for in the place where they touch and coalesce: it lies,
not in the centre of each science, but on the confines and margin.' This
profound truth Darwin fully and instinctively realised. It was the
all-embracing catholicity of his manifold interests that raised him into
the greatest pure biologist of all time, and that enabled him to
co-ordinate with such splendid results the raw data of so many distinct
and separate sciences. And even as early as the days of the cruise in
the 'Beagle,' that innate catholicity had already asserted itself in
full vigour. Now it is a party of Gauchos throwing the bola that engages
for the moment his eager attention; and now again it is a group of
shivering Fuegians, standing naked with their long hair streaming in the
wind on a snowy promontory of their barren coast. Here he examines the
tubular lightning-holes melted in the solid rock of Maldonado by the
electric energy; and there he observes the moving boulder-streams that
course like torrents down the rugged corries of the Falkland Islands. At
one time he works upon the unstudied geology of the South American
Pampas; at another, he inspects the now classical lagoon and narrow
fringing reef of the Keeling archipelago. Everywhere he sees whatever of
most noteworthy in animate or inanimate nature is there to be seen; and
everywhere he draws from it innumerable lessons, to be applied hereafter
to the special field of study upon which his intense and active energies
were finally concentrated. It is not too much to say, indeed, that it
was the voyage of the 'Beagle' which gave us in the last resort the
'Origin of Species' and its great fellow the 'Descent of Man.'

[1] The full narrative was first given to the world in 1839, some three
years after Darwin's return to England, so that much of it evidently
represents the results of his maturer thinking and reading on the facts
collected during his journey round the world.



When Charles Darwin landed in England on his return from the voyage of
the 'Beagle' he was nearly twenty-eight. When he published the first
edition of the 'Origin of Species' he was over fifty. The intermediate
years, though much occupied by many minor works of deep specialist
scientific importance, were still mainly devoted to collecting material
for the one crowning effort of his life, the chief monument of his great
co-ordinating and commanding intellect--the settlement of the question
of organic evolution.

'There is one thing,' says Professor Fiske, 'which a man of original
scientific or philosophical genius in a rightly ordered world should
never be called upon to do. He should never be called upon to earn a
living; for that is a wretched waste of energy, in which the highest
intellectual power is sure to suffer serious detriment, and runs the
risk of being frittered away into hopeless ruin.' From this unhappy
necessity Charles Darwin, like his predecessor Lyell, was luckily free.
He settled down early in a home of his own, and worked away at his own
occupations, with no sordid need for earning the day's bread, but with
perfect leisure to carry out the great destiny for which the chances of
the universe had singled him out. His subsequent history is the history
of his wonderful and unique contributions to natural science.

The first thing to be done, of course, was the arrangement and
classification of the natural history spoils gathered during the cruise,
and the preparation of his own journal of the voyage for publication.
The strict scientific results of the trip were described in the 'Zoology
of the Voyage of the "Beagle,"' the different parts of which were
undertaken by rising men of science of the highest distinction, under
Charles Darwin's own editorship. Sir Richard Owen took in hand the
fossil mammals; Waterhouse arranged their living allies; Gould discussed
the birds, Jenyns the fish, and Bell the amphibians and reptiles. In
this vast co-operative publication Darwin thus obtained the assistance
of many among the most competent specialists in the England of his day,
and learned to understand his own collections by the light thrown upon
them from the focussed lamps of the most minute technical learning. As
for the journal, it was originally published with the general account of
the cruise by Captain Fitzroy in 1839, but was afterwards set forth in a
separate form under the title of 'A Naturalist's Voyage Round the

But while Darwin was thus engaged in arranging and classifying the
animals and plants he had brought home with him, the germs of those
inquiring ideas about the origin of species which we have already
observed in his account of the voyage were quickening into fresh life
within him. As he ruminated at his leisure over the results of his
accumulations, he was beginning to work upon the great problem with the
definite and conscious resolution of solving it. 'On my return home, it
occurred to me,' he says, 'in 1837, that something might perhaps be made
out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all
sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five
years' work, I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up
some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the
conclusions that then seemed to me probable; from that period to the
present day [1859] I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that
I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them
to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.'

So Darwin wrote at fifty. The words are weighty and well worthy of
consideration. They give us in a nutshell the true secret of Darwin's
success in compelling the attention and assent of his contemporaries to
his completed theory. For speculations and hypotheses like those of
Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin, however brilliant and luminous they may be,
the hard, dry, scientific mind cares as a rule less than nothing. Men of
genius and insight like Goethe and Oken may, indeed, seize greedily upon
the pregnant suggestion; their intellects are already attuned by nature
to its due reception and assimilation; but the mere butterfly-catchers
and plant-hunters of the world, with whom after all rests ultimately the
practical acceptance or rejection of such a theory, can only be
convinced by long and patient accumulations of facts, by infinite
instances and endless examples, by exhaustive surveys of the whole
field of nature in a thousand petty details piecemeal. They have to be
driven by repeated beating into the right path. Everywhere they fancy
they see the loophole of an objection, which must be carefully closed
beforehand against them with anticipatory argument, as we close hedges
by the wayside against the obtrusive donkey with a cautious bunch of
thorny brambles. Even if Charles Darwin had hit upon the fundamental
idea of natural selection, and had published it, as Wallace did, in the
form of a mere splendid _apercu_, he would never have revolutionised the
world of biology. When the great discovery was actually promulgated, it
was easy enough to win the assent of philosophical thinkers like Herbert
Spencer; easy enough, even, to gain the ready adhesion of non-biological
but kindred minds, like Leslie Stephen's and John Morley's; those might
all, perhaps, have been readily convinced by far less heavy and crushing
artillery than that so triumphantly marshalled together in the 'Origin
of Species.' But in order to command the slow and grudging adhesion of
the rank and file of scientific workers, the 'hodmen of science,' as
Professor Huxley calls them, it was needful to bring together an
imposing array of closely serried facts, to secure every post in the
rear before taking a single step onward, and to bring to bear upon every
antagonist the exact form of argument with which he was already
thoroughly familiar. It was by carefully pursuing these safe and
cautious philosophical tactics that Charles Darwin gained his great
victory. Where others were pregnant, he was cogent. He met the
Dryasdusts of science on their own ground, and he put them fairly to
flight with their own weapons. More than that, he brought them all over
in the long run as deserters into his own camp, and converted them from
doubtful and suspicious foes into warm adherents of the evolutionary

Moreover, fortunately for the world, Darwin's own mind was essentially
one of the inductive type. If a great deductive thinker and speculator
like Herbert Spencer had hit upon the self-same idea of survival of the
fittest, he might have communicated it to a small following of receptive
disciples, who would have understood it and accepted it, on _a priori_
grounds alone, and gradually passed it on to the grades beneath them;
but he would never have touched the slow and cautious elephantine
intellect of the masses. The common run of mankind are not deductive;
they require to have everything made quite clear to them by example and
instance. The English intelligence in particular shows itself as a rule
congenitally incapable of appreciating the superior logical certitude of
the deductive method. Englishmen will not even believe that the square
on the hypotenuse is equal to the squares on the containing sides until
they have measured and weighed as well as they are able by rude
experimental devices a few selected pieces of rudely shaped rectangular
paper. It was a great gain, therefore, that the task of reconstructing
the course of organic evolution should fall to the lot of a highly
trained and masterly intelligence of the inductive order. Darwin had
first to convince himself, and then he could proceed to convince the
world. He set about the task with characteristic patience and
thoroughness. No man that ever lived possessed in a more remarkable
degree than he did the innate capacity for taking trouble. For five
years, as a mere preliminary, he accumulated facts in immense variety,
and then for the first time and in the vaguest possible way he--'allowed
himself to speculate.' That brings us down to the year 1842, when the
first notes of the 'Origin of Species' must have been tentatively
committed to paper. It was in 1859 that the first edition of the
complete work was given to the world. Compare this with the case of
Newton, who similarly kept his grand idea of gravitation for many years
in embryo, until more exact measurements of the moon's mass and distance
should enable him to verify it to his own satisfaction.

One other item of immense importance in the genesis of the full
Darwinian doctrine deserves mention here--I mean, the exact moment of
time occupied by Charles Darwin in the continuous history of scientific
thought. A generation or two earlier, in Erasmus Darwin's days, biology
had not yet arrived at the true classification of animals and plants
upon an essentially hereditary basis. The Linnaean arrangement, then
universally accepted, was wholly artificial in its main features; it
distributed species without regard to their fundamental likenesses of
structure and organisation. But the natural system of Jussieu and De
Candolle, by arranging plants into truly related groups, made possible
the proofs of an order of affiliation in the vegetable kingdom; while
Cuvier's similar reconstruction of the animal world gave a like foothold
to the evolutionary philosopher in the other great department of organic
nature. The recognition of kinship between the various members of the
same family necessarily preceded the establishment of a regular
genealogical theory of life in its entirety.

Though we are here concerned mainly with Charles Darwin the thinker and
writer--not with Charles Darwin the husband and father--a few words of
explanation as to his private life must necessarily be added at the
present point, before we pass on to consider the long, slow, and
cautious brewing of that wonderful work, the 'Origin of Species,' Darwin
returned home from the voyage of the 'Beagle' at the end of the year
1836. Soon after, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, no doubt
through the influence of his friend Lyell, who was quite enthusiastic
over his splendid geological investigations on the rate of elevation in
the Pampas and the Cordillera. Acting on Lyell's advice, too, he
determined to seek no official appointment, but to devote himself
entirely for the rest of his life to the pursuit of science. In 1838, at
the age of twenty-nine, he read before the Geological Society his paper
on the 'Connection of Volcanic Phenomena with the Elevation of Mountain
Chains,' when, says Lyell admiringly in a private letter, 'he opened
upon De la Beche, Phillips, and others'--the veterans of the
science--'his whole battery of the earthquakes and volcanoes of the
Andes.' Shortly after, the audacious young man was appointed secretary
to the Geological Society, a post which he filled when the voyage of the
'Beagle' was first published in 1839.

In the early part of that same year, the rising naturalist took to
himself a wife from one of the houses to which he himself owed no small
part of his conspicuous greatness. His choice fell upon his cousin,
Miss Emma Wedgwood, daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, of Maer Hall; and,
after three years of married life in London, he settled at last at Down
House, near Orpington, in Kent, where for the rest of his days he passed
his time among his conservatories and his pigeons, his garden and his
fowls, with his children growing up quietly beside him, and the great
thinking world of London within easy reach of a few minutes' journey.
His private means enabled him to live the pleasant life of an English
country gentleman, and devote himself unremittingly to the pursuit of
science. Ill health, indeed, interfered sadly with his powers of work;
but system and patience did wonders during his working days, which were
regularly parcelled out between study and recreation, and utilised and
economised in the very highest possible degree. Early to bed and early
to rise, wandering unseen among the lanes and paths, or riding slowly on
his favourite black cob, the great naturalist passed forty years happily
and usefully at Down, where all the village knew and loved him. A man of
singular simplicity and largeness of heart, Charles Darwin never really
learnt to know his own greatness. And that charming innocence and
ignorance of his real value made the value itself all the greater. His
moral qualities, indeed, were no less admirable and unique in their way
than his intellectual faculties. To that charming candour and delightful
unostentatiousness which everybody must have noticed in his published
writings, he united in private life a kindliness of disposition, a width
of sympathy, and a ready generosity which made him as much beloved by
his friends as he was admired and respected by all Europe. The very
servants who came beneath his roof stopped there for the most part
during their whole lifetime. In his earlier years at Down, the quiet
Kentish home was constantly enlivened by the visits of men like Lyell,
Huxley, Hooker, Lubbock, and Wollaston. During his later days, it was
the Mecca of a world-wide scientific and philosophic pilgrimage, where
all the greatest men our age has produced sought at times the rare
honour of sitting before the face of the immortal master. But to the
very last Darwin himself never seemed to discover that he was anything
more than just an average man of science among his natural peers.

Shortly after Darwin went to Down he began one long and memorable
experiment, which in itself casts a flood of light upon his patient and
painstaking method of inquiry. Two years before, he had read at the
Geological Society a paper on the 'Formation of Mould,' which more than
thirty years later he expanded into his famous treatise on the 'Action
of Earthworms.' His uncle and father-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood, suggested
to him that the apparent sinking of stones on the surface might really
be due to earthworm castings. So, as soon as he had some land of his own
to experiment upon, he began, in 1842, to spread broken chalk over a
field at Down, in which, twenty-nine years later, in 1871, a trench was
dug to test the results. What other naturalist ever waited so long and
so patiently to discover the upshot of a single experiment? Is it
wonderful that a man who worked like that should succeed, not by faith
but by logical power, in removing mountains?

Unfortunately, we do not know the exact date when Darwin first read
Malthus. But that the perusal of that remarkable book formed a crisis
and turning-point in his mental development we know from his own
distinct statement in a letter to Haeckel, prefixed to the brilliant
German evolutionist's 'History of Creation.' 'It seemed to me probable,'
says Darwin, speaking of his own early development, 'that allied species
were descended from a common ancestor. But during several years I could
not conceive how each form could have been modified so as to become
admirably adapted to its place in nature. I began therefore to study
domesticated animals and cultivated plants, and after a time perceived
that man's power of selecting and breeding from certain individuals was
the most powerful of all means in the production of new races. Having
attended to the habits of animals and their relations to the surrounding
conditions, I was able to realise the severe struggle for existence to
which all organisms are subjected; and my geological observations had
allowed me to appreciate to a certain extent the duration of past
geological periods. With my mind thus prepared I fortunately happened to
read Malthus's "Essay on Population" and the idea of natural selection
through the struggle for existence at once occurred to me. Of all the
subordinate points in the theory, the last which I understood was the
cause of the tendency in the descendants from a common progenitor to
diverge in character.'

It is impossible, indeed, to overrate the importance of Malthus, viewed
as a schoolmaster to bring men to Darwin, and to bring Darwin himself to
the truth. Without the 'Essay on the Principle of Population' it is
quite conceivable that we should never have had the 'Origin of Species'
or the 'Descent of Man.'

At the same time, Darwin had not been idle in other departments of
scientific work. Side by side with his collections for his final effort
he had been busy on his valuable treatise upon Coral Reefs, in which he
proved, mainly from his own observations on the Keeling archipelago,
that atolls owe their origin to a subsidence of the supporting
ocean-floor, the rate of upward growth of the reefs keeping pace on the
whole with the gradual depression of the sea-bottom. 'No more admirable
example of scientific method,' says Professor Geikie forty years later,
'was ever given to the world; and even if he had written nothing else,
this treatise alone would have placed Darwin in the very front of
investigators of nature.' But, from our present psychological and
historical point of view, as a moment in the development of Darwin's
influence, and therefore of the evolutionary impulse in general, it
possesses a still greater and more profound importance, because the work
in which the theory is unfolded forms a perfect masterpiece of thorough
and comprehensive inductive method, and gained for its author a
well-deserved reputation as a sound and sober scientific inquirer. The
acquisition of such a reputation, afterwards increased by the
publication of the monograph on the Family Cirripedia (in 1851), proved
of immense use to Charles Darwin in the fierce battle which was to rage
around the unconscious body of the 'Origin of Species.' To be 'sound' is
everywhere of incalculable value; to have approved oneself to the slow
and cautious intelligence of the Philistine classes is a mighty spear
and shield for a strong man; but in England, and above all in scientific
England, it is absolutely indispensable to the thinker who would
accomplish any great revolution. Soundness is to the world of science
what respectability is to the world of business--the _sine qua non_ for
successfully gaining even a hearing from established personages.

To read the book on Coral Reefs is indeed to take a lesson of the
deepest value in applied inductive canons. Every fact is duly
marshalled: every conclusion is drawn by the truest and most legitimate
process from careful observation or crucial experiment. Bit by bit,
Darwin shows most admirably that, through gradual submergence, fringing
reefs are developed into barrier-reefs, and these again into atolls or
lagoon islands; and incidentally he throws a vivid light on the slow
secular movements upward or downward for ever taking place in the
world's crust. But the value of the work as a geological record, great
as it is, is as nothing compared with its value as a training exercise
in inductive logic. Darwin was now learning by experience how to use his
own immense powers.

Meanwhile, the environment too had been gradually moving. In 1832, the
year after young Darwin set out upon his cruise, Lyell published the
first edition of his 'Principles of Geology,' establishing once for all
the uniformitarian concept of that branch of science. In 1836, the year
when he returned, Rafinesque, in his 'New Flora of North America,' had
accepted within certain cramping limits the idea that 'all species might
once have been varieties, and that many varieties are gradually becoming
species by assuming constant and peculiar characters.' Haldeman in
Boston, and Grant at University College, London, were teaching from
their professorial chairs the self-same novel and revolutionary
doctrine. At last, in 1844, Robert Chambers published anonymously his
famous and much-debated 'Vestiges of Creation,' which brought down the
question of evolution _versus_ creation from the senate of _savants_ to
the arena of the mere general public, and set up at once a universal
fever of inquiry into the mysterious question of the origin of species.
Chambers himself was a man rather of general knowledge and some native
philosophical insight than of any marked scientific accuracy or depth.
His work in its original form displayed comparatively little
acquaintance with the vast ground-work of the question at
issue--zoological, botanical, geological, and so forth--and in Charles
Darwin's own opinion showed 'a great want of scientific caution.' But
its graphic style, its vivid picturesqueness, and to the world at large
the startling novelty of its brilliant and piquant suggestions, made it
burst at once into an unwonted popularity for a work of so distinctly
philosophical a character. In nine years it leaped rapidly through no
less than ten successive editions, and remained until the publication of
the 'Origin of Species' the chief authoritative exponent in England of
the still struggling evolutionary principle.

The 'Vestiges of Creation' may be succinctly described as Lamarck and
water, the watery element being due in part to the unnecessary obtrusion
(_more Scotico_) of a metaphysical and theological principle into the
physical universe. Chambers himself, in his latest edition (before the
book was finally killed by the advent of Darwinism), thus briefly
describes his main concepts: 'The several series of animated beings,
from the simplest and oldest up to the highest and most recent, are,
under the providence of God, the results, _first_, of an impulse which
has been imparted to the forms of life, advancing them, in definite
times, by generation, through grades of organisation, terminating in the
highest dicotyledons and vertebrata, these grades being few in number,
and generally marked by intervals of organic character, which we find to
be a practical difficulty in ascertaining affinities; _second_, of
another impulse connected with the vital forces, tending, in the course
of generations, to modify organic structures in accordance with external
circumstances, as food, the nature of the habitat, and the meteoric
agencies.' Now it is clear at once that these two supposed 'impulses'
are really quite miraculous in their essence. They do not help us at all
to a distinct physical and realisable conception of any natural agency
whereby species became differentiated one from the other. They lay the
whole burden of species-making upon a single primordial supernatural
impetus, imparted to the first living germ by the will of the Creator,
and acting ever since continuously it is true, but none the less
miraculously for all that. For many creations Chambers substitutes one
single long creative nisus: where Darwin saw natural selection, his
Scotch predecessor saw a _deus ex machina_, helping on the course of
organic development by a constant but unseen interference from above. He
supposed evolution to be predetermined by some intrinsic and externally
implanted proclivity. In short, Chambers's theory is Lamarck's
theologised, and spoilt in the process.

The book had nevertheless a most prodigious and perfectly unprecedented
success. The secret of its authorship was keenly debated and jealously
kept. The most ridiculous surmises as to its anonymous origin were
everywhere afloat. Some attributed it to Thackeray, and some to Prince
Albert, some to Lyell, some to Sir John Herschel, and some to Charles
Darwin himself. Obscurantists thought it a wicked book; 'intellectual'
people thought it an advanced book. As a matter of fact it was neither
the one nor the other. It was just a pale and colourless transcript of
the old familiar teleological Lamarckism. Yet it did good in its
generation. The public at large were induced by its ephemeral vogue to
interest themselves in a question to which they had never previously
given even a passing thought, though more practised biologists of
evolutionary tendencies were grieved at heart that evolution should
first have been popularly presented to the English world under so
unscientific, garbled, and mutilated a form. From the philosophic side,
Herbert Spencer found 'this ascription of organic evolution to some
aptitude naturally possessed by organisms or miraculously imposed upon
them' to be 'one of those explanations which explain nothing--a shaping
of ignorance into the semblance of knowledge. The cause assigned,' he
says, 'is not a true cause--not a cause assimilable to known causes--not
a cause that can be anywhere shown to produce analogous effects. It is a
cause unrepresentable in thought: one of those illegitimate symbolic
conceptions which cannot by any mental process be elaborated into a real
conception.' From the scientific side, on the other hand, Darwin felt
sadly the inaccuracy and want of profound technical knowledge everywhere
displayed by the anonymous author. These things might naturally cause
the enemy to blaspheme. No worse calamity, indeed, can happen to a
great truth than for its defence to be intrusted to inefficient hands.
Nevertheless, long after, in the 'Origin of Species,' the great
naturalist wrote with generous appreciation of the 'Vestiges of
Creation,' 'In my own opinion it has done excellent service in this
country in calling attention to the subject, in removing prejudice, and
in thus preparing the ground for the reception of analogous views.'

Still Darwin gave no sign. A flaccid, cartilaginous, unphilosophic
evolutionism had full possession of the field for the moment, and
claimed, as it were, to be the genuine representative of the young and
vigorous biological creed, while he himself was in truth the real heir
to all the honours of the situation. He was in possession of the
master-key which alone could unlock the bars that opposed the progress
of evolution, and still he waited. He could afford to wait. He was
diligently collecting, amassing, investigating; eagerly reading every
new systematic work, every book of travels, every scientific journal,
every record of sport, or exploration, or discovery, to extract from the
dead mass of undigested fact whatever item of implicit value might swell
the definite co-ordinated series of notes in his own commonplace books
for the now distinctly contemplated 'Origin of Species.' His way was to
make all sure behind him, to summon up all his facts in irresistible
array, and never to set out upon a public progress until he was secure
against all possible attacks of the ever-watchful and alert enemy in the
rear. Few men would have had strength of mind enough to resist the
temptation offered by the publication of the 'Vestiges of Creation,' and
the extraordinary success attained by so flabby a presentation of the
evolutionary case: Darwin resisted it, and he did wisely.

We may, however, take it for granted, I doubt not, that it was the
appearance and success of Chambers's invertebrate book which induced
Darwin, in 1844 (the year of its publication), to enlarge his short
notes 'into a sketch of the conclusions which then seemed to him
probable.' This sketch he showed to Dr. (now Sir Joseph) Hooker, no
doubt as a precaution to ensure his own claim of priority against any
future possible competitor. And having thus eased his mind for the
moment, he continued to observe, to read, to devour 'Transactions,' to
collate instances, with indefatigable persistence for fifteen years
longer. If any man mentally measures out fifteen years of his own life,
and bethinks him of how long a space it seems when thus deliberately
pictured, he will be able to realise a little more definitely--but only
a little--how profound was the patience, the self-denial, the
single-mindedness of Darwin's intense search after the ultimate truths
of natural science.

What was the sketch that he thus committed to paper in 1844, and
submitted to the judgment of his friend Hooker? It was the germ of the
theory of natural selection. According to that theory, organic
development is due to the survival of the fittest among innumerable
variations, good, bad, and indifferent, from one or more parent stocks.
Darwin's reading of Malthus had suggested to him (apparently as early as
the date of publication of the 'Naturalist's Journal') the idea that
every species of plant and animal must always be producing a far greater
number of seeds, eggs, germs, or young offspring than could possibly be
needed for the maintenance of the average number of the species. Of
these young, by far the greater number must always perish from
generation to generation, for want of space, of food, of air, of raw
material. The survivors in each brood must be those naturally best
adapted for survival. The many would be eaten, starved, overrun, or
crowded out; the few that survive would be those that possessed any
special means of defence against aggressors, any special advantage for
escaping starvation, any special protection against overrunning or
overcrowding foes. Animals and plants, Darwin found on inquiry and
investigation, tended to vary under diverse circumstances from the
parent or parents that originally produced them. These variations were
usually infinitesimal in amount, but sometimes more considerable or even
striking. If any particular variation tended in any way to preserve the
life of the creatures that exhibited it, beyond the average of their
like competitors, that variation would in the long run survive, and the
individuals that possessed it, being thus favoured in the struggle for
existence, would replace the less adapted form from which they sprang.
Darwinism is Malthusianism on the large scale: it is the application of
the calculus of population to the wide facts of universal life.

In one sense, indeed, it may be said that, given Malthus on the one hand
and the Lamarckian evolutionism on the other, some great man somewhere
must sooner or later, almost of necessity, have combined the two, and
hit out the doctrine of natural selection as we actually know it. Quite
so; but then the point is just this: Darwin _was_ the great man in
question; he _did_ the work which in the very essence of things some
such great man was naturally and inevitably predestined to do. You can
always easily manage to get on without any particular great man,
provided, of course, you have ready to hand another equally able great
man by whom to replace him in the scheme of existence. But how many
ordinary naturalists possess the width of mind and universality of
interest which would prompt them to read, mark, learn, and inwardly
digest a politico-economical treatise of the calibre of Malthus? How
many, having done so, have the keenness of vision to perceive the
ensuing biological implications? How many, having seen them, have the
skill and the patience to work up the infinite chaos of botanical and
zoological detail into the far-reaching generalisations of the 'Origin
of Species'? Merely to have caught at the grand idea is in itself no
small achievement; others did so and deserve all honour for their
insight; but to flesh it out with all the minute care and conclusive
force of Darwin's masterpiece is a thousand times a greater and nobler
monument of human endeavour.

During the fifteen years from 1844 to 1859, however, Darwin's pen was by
no means idle. In the first-named year he published his 'Geological
Observations on Volcanic Islands'--part of the 'Beagle' exploration
series; in 1846 he followed this up by his 'Geological Observations on
South America;' in 1851 he gave to the world his monograph on 'Recent
Barnacles;' and in 1853, his treatise on the fossil species of the same
family. But all these works of restricted interest remained always
subsidiary to the one great central task of his entire lifetime, the
preparation of his projected volume on the Origin of Species.

All through the middle decades of the century Darwin continued to labour
at his vast accumulation of illustrative facts; and side by side with
his continuous toil, outside opinion kept paving the way for the final
acceptance of his lucid ideas. The public was buying and reading all the
time its ten editions of the 'Vestiges of Creation.' It was slowly
digesting Lyell's 'Principles of Geology,' in which the old cataclysmic
theories were featly demolished, and the uniformitarian conception of a
past gradually and insensibly merging into the present was conclusively
established. It was getting accustomed to statements like those of the
younger St. Hilaire, in 1850, that specific characters may be modified
by changes in the environing conditions, and that the modifications thus
produced may often be of generic value--may make a difference so great
that we must regard the product not merely as belonging to a distinct
species, but even to a distinct genus or higher kind. In 1852 Herbert
Spencer published in the 'Leader' his remarkable essay, contrasting the
theories of creation and evolution, as applied to organic beings, with
all the biting force of his profound intelligence; and in 1855, the same
encyclopaedic philosopher put forth the first rough sketch of his
'Principles of Psychology,' in which he took the lead in treating the
phenomena of mind from the point of view of gradual development. In that
extraordinary work, the philosopher of evolution traced the origin of
all mental powers and faculties by slow gradations from the very
simplest subjective elements. The 'Principles of Psychology' preceded
the 'Origin of Species' by nearly five years; the first collected volume
of Mr. Spencer's essays preceded Darwin's work by some twelve months.
Baden-Powell's essay on the 'Philosophy of Creation' (much debated and
condemned in ecclesiastical circles), and Professor Owen's somewhat
contradictory utterances on the nature of types and archetypal ideas,
also helped to keep alive interest in the problem of origins up to the
very moment of the final appearance of Darwin's great and splendid

It is interesting during these intermediate years to watch from time to
time the occasional side-hints of Darwin's activity and of the interest
it aroused among his scientific contemporaries. In 1854, for example,
Sir Charles Lyell notes, after an evening at Darwin's, how Sir Joseph
Hooker astonished him with an account of that strange orchid, Catasetum,
which bears three totally distinct kinds of flowers on the same plant;
'It will figure,' he says, 'in C. Darwin's book on species, with many
other "ugly facts," as Hooker, clinging like me to the orthodox faith,
calls these and other abnormal vagaries.' On a similar occasion, a
little later, Lyell asks, after meeting 'Huxley, Hooker, and Wollaston
at Darwin's,' 'After all, did we not come from an ourang?' Last of all,
in 1857, Darwin himself writes an anticipatory letter to his American
friend, Asa Gray, in which he mentions 'six points'--the cardinal
conceptions of the 'Origin of Species.' His book is now fairly under
weigh; he speaks of it himself to acquaintance and correspondents as an
acknowledged project.

Events were growing ripe for the birth. A lucky accident precipitated
its parturition in the course of the year 1858.



The accident came in this wise.

Alfred Russel Wallace, a young Welsh biologist, went out at twenty-four,
in 1848, to the Amazons River, in company with Bates (the author of 'The
Naturalist on the Amazons'), to collect birds and butterflies, and to
study tropical life in the richest region of equatorial America. Like
all other higher zoologists of their time, the two young explorers were
deeply interested in the profound questions of origin and metamorphosis,
and of geographical distribution, and in the letters that passed between
them before they started they avowed to one another that the object of
their quest was a solution of the pressing biological enigma of creation
or evolution. Starting with fresh hopes and a few pounds in pocket, on
an old, worn-out, and unseaworthy slave-trader, they often discussed
these deep problems of life and nature together upon the Sargasso sea,
or among the palms and lianas of the Brazilian woodlands. The air was
thick with whiffs and foretastes of evolutionism, and the two budding
naturalists of the Amazons expedition had inhaled them eagerly with
every breath. They saw among the mimicking organisms of that equatorial
zone strange puzzles to engage their deepest attention; they recognised
in the veins and spots that diversified the filmy membranes of insects'
wings the hieroglyphs of nature, writing as on a tablet for them to
decipher the story of the slow modification of species. In 1852--the
year when Herbert Spencer in England published his essay on the
'Development Hypothesis,' and when Naudin in France put forth his bold
and able paper on the 'Origin of Species'--Wallace once more returned to
Europe, and gave to the world his interesting 'Travels on the Amazons
and the Rio Negro.' Two years later the indefatigable traveller set out
a second time on a voyage of tropical exploration, among the islands of
the Malay archipelago, and for eight years he wandered about in Malay
huts and remote islets, gathering in solitude and isolation the enormous
store of minute facts which he afterwards lavished with so prodigal a
hand upon 'Tropical Nature,' and the 'Geographical Distribution of

While Wallace was still at Amboyna, he sent home in 1858 a striking
memoir, addressed to Darwin, with a request that he would forward it to
Sir Charles Lyell, for presentation to the Linnean Society. Darwin
opened and read his brother naturalist's paper, and found to his
surprise that it contained his own theory of natural selection, not
worked out in detail, as he himself was working it out, but still
complete in spirit and essence, with no important portion of the central
idea lacking to its full rotundity of conception. A jealous man would
have thrown obstacles in the way of publication; but both Darwin and
Wallace were born superior to the meannesses of jealousy. The elder
naturalist commended his young rival's paper at once to Sir Charles
Lyell, who sent it on immediately to the Linnean Society.

But Sir Charles Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker, both of whom knew of
Darwin's work, thought it advisable that he should publish, in the
'Journal' of the Society, a few extracts from his own manuscripts, side
by side with Wallace's paper. Darwin, therefore, selected some essential
passages for the purpose from his own long-gathered and voluminous
notes, and the two contributions were read together before the Society
on July the 1st, 1858. That double communication marks the date of birth
of modern evolutionism. It is to the eternal credit of both thinkers
that each accepted his own true position with regard to the great
discovery in perfect sincerity. The elder naturalist never strove for a
moment to press his own claim to priority against the younger: the
younger, with singular generosity and courtesy, waived his own claim to
divide the honours of discovery in favour of the elder. Not one word
save words of fraternal admiration and cordial appreciation ever passed
the lips of either with regard to the other.

The distinctive notion of natural selection, indeed, like all true and
fruitful ideas, had more than once flashed for a moment across the
penetrating mind of more than one independent investigator. As early as
1813, Dr. Wells, the famous author of the theory of dew, applied that
particular conception to the single case of the production of special
races among mankind.

'Of the accidental varieties of man, which would occur among the first
few and scattered inhabitants of the middle regions of Africa,' he
wrote, 'some one would be better fitted than the others to bear the
diseases of the country. This race would consequently multiply, while
the others would decrease; not only from their inability to sustain the
attacks of disease, but from their incapacity of contending with their
more vigorous neighbours.... The same disposition to form varieties
still existing, a darker and a darker race would in the course of time
occur; and as the darkest would be the best fitted for the climate, this
would at last become the most prevalent, if not the only race in the
country.' Here we have not merely the radical concept of natural
selection, but also the subordinate idea of its exertion upon what
Darwin calls 'spontaneous variations.' What is wanting in the paper is
the application of the faintly descried law to the facts and
circumstances of general biology: Wells saw only a particular instance,
where Darwin and Wallace more vividly perceived a universal principle.
Again, in 1831, Mr. Patrick Matthew in that singular appendix to his
book on naval timber actually enunciates the same idea, applied this
time to the whole of nature, in words sometimes almost identical with
Darwin's own. 'As nature in all her modifications of life,' says this
unconscious discoverer, 'has a power of increase far beyond what is
needed to supply the place of what falls by Time's decay, those
individuals who possess not the requisite strength, swiftness,
hardihood, or cunning, fall prematurely without reproducing--either a
prey to their natural devourers, or sinking under disease, generally
induced by want of nourishment, their place being occupied by the more
perfect of their own kind, who are pressing on the means of
existence.... The self-regulating adaptive disposition of organised life
may, in part, be traced to the extreme fecundity of nature, who, as
before stated, has in all the varieties of her offspring a prolific
power much beyond (in many cases a thousandfold) what is necessary to
fill up the vacancies caused by senile decay. As the field of existence
is limited and preoccupied, it is only the hardier, more robust,
better-suited-to-circumstance individuals, who are able to struggle
forward to maturity, these inhabiting only the situations to which they
have superior adaptation and greater power of occupancy than any other
kind; the weaker and less circumstance-suited being prematurely
destroyed. This principle is in constant action; it regulates the
colour, the figure, the capacities, and instincts; those individuals in
each species whose colour and covering are best suited to concealment or
protection from enemies, or defence from inclemencies and vicissitudes
of climate, whose figure is best accommodated to health, strength,
defence, and support; whose capacities and instincts can best regulate
the physical energies to self-advantage according to circumstances--in
such immense waste of primary and youthful life those only come forward
to maturity from the strict ordeal by which nature tests their
adaptation to her standard of perfection and fitness to continue their
kind by reproduction.' Of the ideas expressed in these paragraphs, and
others which preceded them, Darwin himself rightly observes, 'He gives
precisely the same view on the origin of species as that propounded by
Mr. Wallace and myself. He clearly saw the full force of the principle
of natural selection.'

In 1852, once more, so eminent and confirmed an evolutionist as Mr.
Herbert Spencer himself had hit upon a glimpse of the same great truth,
strange to say without perceiving the width and scope of its
implications. 'All mankind,' he wrote in that year in an essay on
population in the 'Westminster Review,' 'in turn subject themselves more
or less to the discipline described; they either may or may not advance
under it; but, in the nature of things, only those who _do_ advance
under it eventually survive. For, necessarily, families and races whom
this increasing difficulty of getting a living which excess of fertility
entails does not stimulate to improvements in production.... are on the
high road to extinction; and must ultimately be supplanted by those whom
the pressure does so stimulate.... And here, indeed, without further
illustration, it will be seen that premature death, under all its forms,
and from all its causes, cannot fail to work in the same direction. For
as those prematurely carried off must, in the average of cases, be those
in whom the power of self-preservation is the least, it unavoidably
follows that those left behind to continue the race must be those in
whom the power of self-preservation is the greatest, must be the select
of their generation.' In this striking pre-Darwinian passage we have a
partial perception of what Mr. Spencer afterwards described as the
survival of the fittest; but, as our great philosopher himself remarks,
it 'shows how near one may be to a great generalisation without seeing
it.' For not only does Mr. Spencer, like Wells before him, limit the
application of the principle to the case of humanity; but, unlike Wells,
he overlooks the all-important factor of spontaneous variation, and the
power of natural selection, acting upon such, to produce specific and
generic divergences of structure. In short, in his own words, the
paragraph 'contains merely a passing recognition of the selective
process, and indicates no suspicion of the enormous range of its
effects, or of the conditions under which a large part of its effects
are produced.' On the other hand, it must be noted that both Spencer and
Matthew, like Darwin himself, based their ideas largely upon the
Malthusian principle, and thus held the two true keys of the situation
fairly within their unconscious hands.

Frankly to recognise these various foreshadowings of the distinctive
Darwinian theory of natural selection is not in any way to undermine the
foundations of Charles Darwin's own real and exceptional greatness. On
the contrary, the mere fact that his views were so far anticipated by
Wells, Matthew, Spencer, and others, and were simultaneously arrived at
across half the globe by the independent intellect of Alfred Russel
Wallace, is in itself the very best proof and finest criterion of
Charles Darwin's genuine apostleship. No truly grand and fruitful idea
was ever yet the sole property of a single originator. Great
discoveries, says an acute critic, must always be concerned with some
problem of the time which many of the world's foremost minds are just
then cudgelling their active brains about. It was so with the discovery
of the differential calculus, and of the planet Neptune; with the
interpretation of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and of the cuneiform
inscriptions; with the undulatory theory of light, with the mechanical
equivalent of heat, with the doctrine of the correlation and
conservation of energies, with the invention of the steam engine, the
locomotive, the telegraph and the telephone; with the nebular
hypothesis, and with spectrum analysis. It was so, too, with the
evolutionary movement. The fertile upturning of virgin sod in the
biological field which produced Darwin's forerunners, as regards the
idea of descent with modification, in the persons of Buffon, Lamarck,
and Erasmus Darwin, necessarily produced a little later, under the fresh
impetus of the Malthusian conception, his forerunners or coadjutors, as
regards the idea of natural selection, in the persons of Wells, Matthew,
and Wallace. It was Darwin's task to recognise the universal, where
Wells and Spencer had seen only the particular; to build up a vast and
irresistible inductive system, where Matthew and Wallace had but thrown
out a pregnant hint of wonderful _a priori_ interest and suggestiveness.
It is one thing to draw out the idea of a campaign, another thing to
carry it to a successful conclusion; one thing rudely to sketch a
ground-plan, another thing finally to pile aloft to the sky the front of
an august and imposing fabric.

As soon as the papers at the Linnean had been read and printed, Darwin
set to work in real earnest to bring out the first instalment of his
great work. That instalment was the 'Origin of Species.' The first
edition was ready for the public on November the 24th, 1859.

In his own mind Darwin regarded that immortal work merely in the light
of an abstract of his projected volumes. So immense were his collections
and so voluminous his notes that the 'Origin of Species' itself seemed
to him like a mere small portion of the contemplated publication. And
indeed he did ultimately work out several other portions of his original
plan in his detailed treatises on the Variation of Animals and Plants
under Domestication, on the Effects of Cross and Self-Fertilisation, and
on the Descent of Man and Sexual Selection. But the immense and
unexpected vogue of his first volume, the almost immediate revolution
which it caused in biological and general opinion, and the all but
universal adhesion to his views of all the greatest and most rising
naturalists, to a great extent saved him the trouble of carrying out in
full the task he had originally contemplated as necessary. Younger and
less occupied labourers took part of the work off their leader's hands;
the great chief was left to prosecute his special researches in some
special lines, and was relieved from the necessity of further proving in
minuter detail what he had already proved with sufficient cogency to
convince all but the wilfully blind or the hopelessly stupid.

The extraordinary and unprecedented success of the 'Origin of Species'
is the truest test of the advance it made upon all previous evolutionary
theorising. Those who had never been convinced before were now convinced
by sheer force of reasoning; those who believed and those who wavered
had their faith confirmed into something like the reposeful calm of
absolute certitude.

Let us consider, therefore, what exactly were the additions which
Charles Darwin offered in his epoch-making work to the pre-existing
conceptions of evolutionists.

In 1852, seven years before the publication of Darwin's masterpiece, Mr.
Herbert Spencer wrote as follows in an essay in the 'Leader' on creation
and evolution. The expressions of so profound and philosophical a
biologist may be regarded as the high-water mark of evolutionary
thinking up to the date of the appearance of Wallace and Darwin's

'Even could the supporters of the development hypothesis merely show
that the production of species by the process of modification is
conceivable, they would be in a better position than their opponents.
But they can do much more than this; they can show that the process of
modification has effected and is effecting great changes in all
organisms, subject to modifying influences ... they can show that any
existing species--animal or vegetable--when placed under conditions
different from its previous ones, immediately begins to undergo certain
changes of structure fitting it for the new conditions. They can show
that in successive generations these changes continue until ultimately
the new conditions become the natural ones. They can show that in
cultivated plants and domesticated animals, and in the several races of
men, these changes have uniformly taken place. They can show that the
degrees of difference, so produced, are often, as in dogs, greater than
those on which distinctions of species are in other cases founded. They
can show that it is a matter of dispute whether some of these modified
forms _are_ varieties or modified species. They can show too that the
changes daily taking place in ourselves; the facility that attends long
practice, and the loss of aptitude that begins when practice ceases; the
development of every faculty, bodily, moral or intellectual, according
to the use made of it, are all explicable on this same principle. And
thus they can show that throughout all organic nature there _is_ at
work a modifying influence of the kind they assign as the cause of these
specific differences, an influence which, though slow in its action,
does in time, if the circumstances demand it, produce marked changes; an
influence which, to all appearance, would produce in the millions of
years, and under the great varieties of condition which geological
records imply, any amount of change.'

This admirable passage, written seven years before the publication of
the 'Origin of Species,' contains explicitly almost every idea that
ordinary people, not specially biological in their interests, now
associate with the name of Darwin. That is to say, it contains, in a
very philosophical and abstract form, the theory of 'descent with
modification' _without_ the distinctive Darwinian adjunct of 'natural
selection' or 'survival of the fittest.' Yet it was just that particular
lever, dexterously applied, and carefully weighted with the whole weight
of his endlessly accumulated inductive instances, that finally enabled
our modern Archimedes in so short a time to move the world. The public,
that was deaf to the high philosophy of Herbert Spencer, listened at
once to the practical wisdom of Charles Darwin. They did not care at all
for the _a priori_ proof, but they believed forthwith as soon as a
cautious and careful investigator laid bare before their eyes in minute
detail the _modus operandi_ of nature herself.

The main argument of Darwin's chief work runs somewhat after the
following fashion[2]:--

Variation, to a greater or less degree, is a common and well-known fact
in nature. More especially, animals and plants under domestication tend
to vary from one another far more than do the individuals of any one
species in the wild state. Rabbits in a warren are all alike in shape,
size, colour, and features: rabbits in a hutch vary indefinitely in the
hue of their fur, the length of their ears, the character of their coat,
and half a dozen other minor particulars, well known to the observant
souls of boys and fanciers. This great variability, though partly
perhaps referable to excess of food, is probably due on the whole to
their having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and
somewhat different from, those to which the parent species is commonly
exposed in a state of nature. In other words, variability is one result
of altered and more varied surrounding circumstances.

Again, this variability is usually indefinite. You cannot say what
direction it will take, or to what particular results it is likely in
any special instance to lead. Marked differences sometimes occur even
between the young of the same litter, or between the seedlings sown from
the same capsule. As a rule, the variations exhibit themselves in
connection with sexual reproduction; but sometimes, as in the case of
'sporting plants,' a new bud suddenly produces leaves or flowers of a
different character from the rest of those on the self-same stem, thus
showing that the tendency to vary is inherent, as it were, in the
organism itself. Upon this fundamental fact of the existence in nature
of numerous and indefinite variations, the whole theory of natural
selection is ultimately built up. In illustrating by example the immense
variability of domesticated creatures, Darwin lays great stress upon the
case of pigeons, with which he was familiar from his long experience as
a breeder and fancier in his own home at Down. Naturalists are almost
universally of opinion that all the breeds of domestic pigeons, from the
carrier to the tumbler, from the runt to the fantail, are alike
descended from the wild rock pigeon of the European coasts. The immense
amount of variation which this original species has undergone in
domestication may be seen by comparing the numberless breeds of pigeon
now exhibited at all our poultry shows with one another.

But variation gives us only half the elements of the ultimate problem,
even in the case of domestic kinds. For the other half, we must have
recourse to human selection, which, by picking out for seed or breeding
purposes certain specially favoured varieties, has produced at last all
the purposive or intentional diversity between the different existing
stocks or breeds. In these artificially produced domestic races we see
everywhere special adaptations to man's particular use or fancy. The
dray-horse has been fashioned for purposes of strength and
sure-footedness in draught, the race-horse for purposes of fleetness in
running. In the fox-hound, man has encouraged the special properties
that tend to produce a good day's hunting; in the sheepdog, those that
make for the better maintenance and safety of a herd. The cauliflower is
a cabbage, with specialised and somewhat abortive flower-heads; the
fuller's teasel is a sport of the wild form, with curved hooks specially
adapted by a freak of nature for the teasing of wool. So in every case
man, by deliberately picking out for breeding or seeding purposes the
accidental variations which happened best to suit his own needs, has
succeeded at last in producing races admirably fitted in the minutest
particulars for the special functions to which they are applied. There
appears indeed to be hardly any limit to the almost infinite plasticity
and modifiability of domestic animals. 'It would seem,' said a great
sheep-breeder, speaking of sheep, 'as if farmers had chalked out upon a
wall a form perfect in itself, and then proceeded to give it existence.'

Now, what is thus true within narrow limits, and in a short space of
time about the deliberate action of man, Darwin showed to be also true
within wider limits and spread over longer geological epochs about the
unconscious action of nature. And herein consisted his great advance
upon the earlier evolutionism of Lamarck, Goethe, and Erasmus Darwin.
For while these instinctive pioneers of the evolutionary spirit saw
clearly that animals and plants betrayed signs of common descent from
one or a few original ancestors, they did not see what was the mechanism
by which such organisms had been differentiated into so many distinct
genera and species. They caught, indeed, at the analogy of variation
under domestication and in the wild state, but they missed the subtler
and deeper analogy between human and natural selection. Now, variation
alone would give us a world consisting not of definite kinds fairly well
demarcated one from the other, but of innumerable unclassified and
unorganisable individuals, all shading off indefinitely one into the
other, and incapable of being reduced by human ingenuity to any orderly
hierarchical system. Furthermore, it would give us creatures without
special adaptation of any kind to the peculiar circumstances of their
own environment. To account for adaptation, for the almost perfect
fitness of every plant and every animal to its position in life, for the
existence (in other words) of definitely correlated parts and organs, we
must call in the aid of survival of the fittest. Without that potent
selective agent, our conception of the becoming of life is a mere chaos;
order and organisation are utterly inexplicable save by the brilliant
illuminating ray of the Darwinian principle. That is why Darwin
destroyed at one blow the specious arguments of the early teleologists;
he showed that where Chambers and even Erasmus Darwin had seen the
working of a final cause, we ought rather to recognise the working of an
efficient cause, whose outcome necessarily but fallaciously simulates
the supposed features of an _a priori_ finality.

From art, then, Darwin harks back once more to nature. He proceeds to
show that variability occurs among all wild plants and animals, though
not so frequently under ordinary circumstances as in the case of
domesticated species. Individual differences everywhere occur between
plant and plant, between animal and animal. Sometimes these differences
are so very numerous that it is impossible to divide the individuals at
all into well-marked kinds; for example, among British wild-roses,
brambles, hawkweeds and epilobes, with a few other very variable
families, Babington makes as many as 251 distinct species, where
Bentham gives only 112--a margin of 139 doubtful forms of shadowy
indefiniteness. Varieties, in fact, are always arising, and dominant
species in particular always tend to vary most in every direction. The
reason why variation is not so marked in the wild state as under
domestication is of course because the conditions are there less
diverse; but where the conditions of wild things are most diverse, as in
the case of dominant kinds, which range over a wide space of country or
of ocean, abundant individual variations habitually occur. Local
varieties thus produced are regarded by Darwin as incipient species:
they are the raw material on which natural selection gradually exerts
itself in the struggle for existence.

Granting individual variability, then, how do species arise in nature?
And how are all the exquisite adaptations of part to whole, and of whole
to environment, gradually initiated, improved, and perfected?

Here Malthus and the struggle for life come in to help us.

For the world is perpetually over-populated. It is not, as many good
people fearfully imagine, on a half-comprehension of the Malthusian
principle, shortly going to be over-populated; it is now, it has always
been, and it will always be, pressed close up to the utmost possible
limit of population. Reproduction is everywhere and in all species for
ever outrunning means of subsistence; and starvation or competition is
for ever keeping down the number of the offspring to the level of the
average or normal supply of raw material. A single red campion produces
in a year three thousand seeds; but there are not this year three
thousand times as many red campions as there were last summer, nor will
there be three thousand times as many more in the succeeding season. The
roe of a cod contains sometimes nearly ten million eggs; but supposing
each of these produced a young fish which arrived at maturity, the whole
sea would immediately become a solid mass of closely packed codfish.
Linnaeus reckoned that if an annual plant had two seeds, each of which
produced two seedlings in the succeeding season, and so on continually,
in twenty years their progeny would amount to a million plants. A
struggle for existence necessarily results from this universal tendency
of animals and plants to increase faster than the means of subsistence,
whether those means be food, as in the first case, or carbonic acid,
water, and sunshine as in the second. Animals are all perpetually
battling with one another for the food-supply of the moment; plants are
perpetually battling with one another for their share of the soil, the
rainfall, and the sunshine.

The case of the plant is a very important one to understand in this
connection, because it is probable that most people greatly
misunderstand the biological meaning of the phrase 'struggle for
existence.' They imagine that the struggle is chiefly conducted between
different species, whereas in reality it is chiefly conducted between
members of the same species. It is not so much the battle between the
tiger and the antelope, between the wolf and the bison, between the
snake and the bird, that ultimately results in natural selection or
survival of the fittest, as the struggle between tiger and tiger,
between bison and bison, between snake and snake, between antelope and
antelope. A human analogy may help to make this difficult principle a
little clearer. The baker does not fear the competition of the butcher
in the struggle for life: it is the competition of the other bakers that
sometimes inexorably crushes him out of existence. The lawyer does not
press hard upon the doctor, nor the architect upon the journeyman
painter. A war in the Soudan or in South Africa is far less fatal to the
workman in our great towns than the ceaseless competition of his
fellow-workmen. It is not the soldier that kills the artisan, but the
number of other artisans who undersell him and crowd to fill up every
vacant position. In this way the great enemies of the individual
herbivore are not the carnivores, but the other herbivores. The lion
eats the antelope, to be sure; but the real struggle lies between lion
and lion for a fair share of meat, or between antelope and antelope for
a fair share of pasturage. _Homo homini lupus_, says the old proverb,
and so, we may add, in a wider sense, _lupus lupo lupus_, also. Of
course, the carnivore plays a great part in the selective process; but
he is the selector only; the real competition is between the selected.
Now, let us take the case of the plant. A thousand seedlings occupy the
space where few alone can ultimately grow; and between these seedlings
the struggle is fierce, the strongest and best adapted ultimately
surviving. To take Darwin's own example, the mistletoe, which is a
parasite, cannot truly be said to struggle with the apple tree on which
it fastens; for if too many parasites cover a tree, it perishes, and so
they kill themselves as well as their host, all alike dying together.
But several seedling mistletoes growing together on the same branch may
fairly be said to struggle with one another for light and air; and since
mistletoe seeds are disseminated by birds and dropped by them in the
angles of branches, the mistletoe may also be said to compete with other
berry-bearing bushes, like cornel and hawthorn, for the ministrations of
the fruit-eating birds. The struggle is fierce between allied kinds, and
fiercest of all between individual members of the same species.

Owing to this constant struggle, variations, however slight, and from
whatever cause arising, if in any degree profitable to the individual
which presents them, will tend to the preservation of the particular
organism, and, being on the average inherited by its offspring, will
similarly tend to increase and multiply in the world at large. This is
the principle of natural selection or survival of the fittest--the great
principle which Darwin and Wallace added to the evolutionism of Lamarck
and his successors.

Let us take a single concrete example. In the desert, with its
monotonous sandy colouring, a black insect or a white insect, still more
a red insect or a blue insect, would be immediately detected and
promptly devoured by its natural enemies, the birds and lizards. But any
greyish or yellowish insects would be less likely to attract attention
at first sight, and would be overlooked as long as there were any more
conspicuous individuals of their own kind about for the birds and
lizards to feed on at their leisure. Hence, in a very short time, the
desert would be depopulated of all but the greyest and yellowest
insects; and among these the birds would pick out those which differed
most markedly in hue or shade from the sand around them. But those
which happened to vary most in the direction of a sandy or spotty colour
would be most likely to survive, and to become the parents of future
generations. Thus, in the course of long ages, all the insects which
inhabit deserts have become sand-coloured; because the least sandy were
perpetually picked out for destruction by their ever-watchful foes,
while the most sandy escaped and multiplied and replenished the earth
with their own likes.

Conversely, the birds and the lizards again would probably begin by
being black, and white, and blue, and green, like most other birds and
lizards in the world generally. But the insect would have ample warning
of the near approach of such conspicuous self-advertising enemies, and
would avoid them accordingly whenever they appeared within range of his
limited vision, either by lying close, or by shamming death, or by
retreating precipitately to holes and crannies. Therefore, whatever
individual birds or lizards happened to vary most in the direction of
grey or sand-colour, and so to creep unobserved upon the unguarded
insects, would succeed best on the average in catching beetles or desert
grasshoppers. Hence, by the slow dying out of the more highly coloured
and distinctive insect-eaters, before the severe competition of the
greyest and sandiest, all the birds and lizards of the desert have
become at last as absolutely sand-coloured as the insects themselves.
Only the greyest insect could escape the bird; only the greyest bird,
_en revanche_, could surprise and devour the unwary insect.

Sir Charles Lyell and the elder De Candolle had already seen the great
importance of the struggle for existence in the organic world, but
neither of them had observed the magnificent corollary of natural
selection, which flows from it almost as a mathematical necessity when
once suggested; for, given indefinite variability, and a geometrical,
rate of increase, it must needs follow that some varieties will be
better suited to the circumstances than others, and therefore that they
will survive on the average in increased proportions. A passage from one
of Lyell's early letters will show how near he too went to this great
luminous generalisation, and yet how utterly he missed the true
implications of his own vague and chaotic idea. He writes thus to Sir
John Herschel in 1836, while Darwin was still but homeward bound on the
voyage of the 'Beagle':--

'In regard to the origination of new species, I am very glad to find
that you think it probable that it may be carried on through the
intervention of intermediate causes.... An insect may be made in one of
its transformations to resemble a dead stick, or a leaf, or a lichen, or
a stone, so as to be somewhat less easily found by its enemies; or if
this would make it too strong, an occasional variety of the species may
have this advantage conferred on it; or if this would be still too much,
one sex of a certain variety. Probably there is scarcely a dash of
colour on the wing or body of which the choice would be quite arbitrary,
or which might not affect its duration for thousands of years.'

Now, this comes in some ways perilously near to Darwin indeed; but in
the most important point of all it is wide apart from him as the pole is
from the equator. For Lyell thought of all this as a matter of external
teleological arrangement; he imagined a deliberate power from outside
settling it all by design beforehand, and granting to varieties or
species these special peculiarities in a manner that was at bottom
essentially supernatural, or in other words miraculous; whereas Darwin
thinks of it as the necessary result of the circumstances themselves, an
inevitable outcome of indefinite variability _plus_ the geometrical rate
of increase. Where Lyell sees a final cause, Darwin sees an efficient
cause; and this distinction is fundamental. It marks Darwin's position
as that of a great philosophical thinker, who can dash aside at once all
metaphysical cobwebs, and penetrate to the inmost recesses of things,
unswerved by the vain but specious allurements of obvious and misleading
teleological fallacies.

Darwin also laid great stress on the immense complexity of the relations
which animals and plants bear to one another, in the struggle for
existence. For example, on the heathy uplands near Farnham in Surrey,
large spaces were at one time enclosed, on which, within ten years,
self-grown fir-trees from the wind-borne seeds of distant clumps sprang
up so thickly as actually to choke one another with their tiny branches.
All over the heaths outside, when Darwin looked for them, he could not
find a single fir, except the old clumps on the hilltops, from which the
seedlings themselves had originally sprung. But, on looking closer among
the stems of the heath, he descried a number of very tiny firs, which
had been perpetually browsed down by the cattle on the commons; and one
of them, with twenty-six rings of growth, had during many years
endeavoured unsuccessfully to raise its head above the surrounding
heather. Hence, as soon as the land was enclosed, and the cattle
excluded, it became covered at once with a thick growth of vigorous
young fir-trees. Yet who would ever have supposed beforehand that the
mere presence or absence of cattle would absolutely have determined the
very existence of the Scotch fir throughout a wide range of well-adapted
sandy English upland?

To take another curious instance mentioned by Darwin. In Paraguay,
unlike the greater part of neighbouring South America, neither horses
nor cattle have ever run wild. This is due to the presence of a
parasitic fly, which lays its eggs in their bodies when first born, the
maggots killing off the tender young in their first stages. But if any
cause were to alter the number of the dangerous flies, then cattle and
wild horses would abound; and this would alter the vegetation, as Darwin
himself observed in other parts of America; and the change in the
vegetation would affect the insects; and that again the insectivorous
birds; and so on in ever widening circles of incalculable complexity.
Once more, to quote the most famous instance of all, the visits of
humble-bees are absolutely necessary in order to place the pollen in the
right position for setting the seeds of purple clover. Heads from which
Darwin excluded the bees produced no seeds at all. Hence, if humble-bees
became extinct in England, the red clover, too, would die off: and
indeed, in New Zealand, where there are no humble-bees, and where the
efforts to introduce them for this very purpose have been uniformly
unsuccessful, the clover never sets its seed at all, and fresh stocks
have to be imported at great expense every year from Europe. But the
number of humble-bees in any district largely depends upon the number of
field-mice, which destroy the combs and nests in immense quantities.
The number of mice, again, is greatly affected by the proportion of cats
in the neighbourhood; so that Colonel Newman, who paid much attention to
this subject, found humble-bees most numerous in the neighbourhood of
villages and small towns, an effect which he attributed to the abundance
of cats, and the consequent scarcity of the destructive field-mice. Yet
here once more, who could suppose beforehand that the degree to which
the purple clover set its seeds was in part determined by the number of
cats kept in houses in the surrounding district?

One of Darwin's own favourite examples of the action of natural
selection, which he afterwards expanded largely in his work on Orchids
and in several other volumes, is that which relates to the origin of
conspicuous flowers. Many plants have a sweet excretion, which is
eliminated sometimes even by the leaves, as in the case of the common
laurel. This juice, though small in quantity, is eagerly sought and
eaten by insects. Now let us suppose that, in some variety of an
inconspicuous flower, similar nectar was produced in the neighbourhood
of the petals and stamens. Insects, in seeking the nectar, would dust
their bodies over with the pollen, and would carry it away with them to
the next flower visited. This would result in an act of crossing; and
that act, as Darwin afterwards abundantly proved in a separate and very
laborious treatise, gives rise to exceptionally vigorous seedlings,
which would therefore have the best chance of flourishing and surviving
in the struggle for existence. The flowers which produced most honey
would oftenest be visited, and oftenest crossed; so that they would
finally form a new species. The more brightly coloured among them,
again, would be more readily discriminated than the less brightly
coloured; and this would give them such an advantage that in the long
run, as we actually see, almost all habitually insect-fertilised flowers
would come to have brilliant petals. The germ of this luminous idea,
once more, is to be found in Sprengel's remarkable work on the
fertilisation of flowers--a work far in advance of its time in many
ways, and to which Darwin always expressed his deep obligations; but, as
in so many other instances, while Sprengel looked upon all the little
modifications and adaptations of flower and insect to one another as the
result of distinct creative design, Darwin looked upon them as the
result of natural selection, working upon the basis of indeterminate
spontaneous variations.

How do these variations arise? Not by chance, of course (for in the
strict scientific sense nothing on earth can be considered as really
fortuitous), but as the outcome for the most part of very minute organic
causes, whose particular action it is impossible for us to predict with
our present knowledge. Some physical cause in each case there must
necessarily be; and indeed it is often possible to show that certain
changes of condition in the parent do result in variations in the
offspring, though what special direction the variation will take can
never be foretold with any accuracy. In short, our ignorance of the laws
of variation is profound, but our knowledge of the fact is clear and
certain. The fact alone is essential to the principle of natural
selection; the cause, though in itself an interesting subject of
inquiry, may be safely laid aside for the present as comparatively
unimportant. What we have actually given to us in the concrete universe
is, organisms varying perpetually in minute points, and a rapid rate of
increase causing every minute point of advantage to be exceptionally
favoured in the struggle for existence.

But Darwin is remarkable among all broachers of new theories for the
extraordinary candour and openness of his method. He acknowledged
beforehand all the difficulties in the way of his theory, and though he
himself confessed that some of them were serious (a statement which
subsequent research has often rendered unnecessary), he met many of them
with cogent arguments by anticipation, and demolished objections before
they could even be raised against him by hostile critics. Of these
objections, only two need here be mentioned. The first is the question,
why is not all nature even now a confused mass of transitional forms?
Why do genera and species exist as we see them at present in broad
distinction one from the other? To this Darwin answers rightly that,
where the process of species-making is still going on, we do actually
find fine gradations and transitional forms existing between genera,
varieties, and species.[3] But, furthermore, as natural selection acts
solely by the preservation of useful modifications, each better-adapted
new form will always tend in a fully stocked country to oust and
exterminate its own unimproved parent type, as well as all other
competing but less perfect varieties. Thus natural selection and
extinction of intermediates go for ever hand in hand. The more perfect
the new variety, the more absolutely will it kill off the intermediate
forms. The second great difficulty lies in the question of the origin of
instinct, which, as Darwin shows, by careful inductive instances, may
have arisen by the slow and gradual accumulation of numerous slight yet
profitable variations.

I have dwelt at some length upon those portions of the 'Origin of
Species' which deal in detail with the theory of natural selection, the
chief contribution which Darwin made to the evolutionary movement,
because it is impossible otherwise fully to understand the great gulf
which separates his evolutionism from the earlier evolutionism of
Lamarck and his followers. But it is impracticable here to give any idea
of the immense wealth of example and illustration which Darwin brought
to the elucidation of every part of his complex problem. In order to
gain a full conception of this side of his nature, we must turn to the
original treatise itself, and still more to the subsequent volumes in
which the ground-work of observations and experiments on which he based
his theory was more fully detailed for the specialist public.

The remainder of Darwin's epoch-making work deals, strictly speaking,
rather with the general theory of 'descent with modification' than with
the special doctrine of natural selection. It restates and reinforces,
by the light of the new additional concept, and with fuller facts and
later knowledge, the four great arguments already known in favour of
organic evolution as a whole, the argument from Geological Succession,
the argument from Geographical Distribution, the argument from
Embryological Development, and the argument from Classificatory
Affinities. Each of these we may briefly summarise.

The geological record is confessedly imperfect. At the time when Darwin
first published the 'Origin of Species,' it had disclosed to our view
comparatively few intermediate or transitional forms between the chief
great classes of plants or animals; since that time, in singular
confirmation of the Darwinian hypothesis, it has disclosed an immense
number of such connecting types, amongst which may be more particularly
noticed the 'missing links' between the birds and reptiles, the
ancestors of the horses, the camels, and the pigs, and the common
progenitor of the ruminants and the pachyderms, two great groups classed
by Cuvier as distinct orders--all of which instances were incorporated
by Darwin in later editions of his 'Origin of Species.' But, apart from
these special and newly discovered cases, the whole general course of
geological history 'agrees admirably with the theory of descent with
modification through variation and natural selection.' The simpler
animals of early times are followed by the more complex and more
specialised animals of later geological periods. As each main group of
animals appears upon the stage of life, it appears in a very central and
'generalised' form; as time goes on, we find its various members
differing more and more widely from one another, and assuming more and
more specialised adaptive forms. And in each country it is found, as a
rule, that the extinct animals of the later formations bear a close
general resemblance and relationship to the animals which now inhabit
the same regions. For example, the fossil mammals from the Australian
caves are nearly allied to the modern kangaroos, phalangers, and
wombats; and the gigantic extinct sloths and armadillos of South America
are reproduced in their smaller representatives at the present day. So,
too, the moa of New Zealand was a huge apteryx; and the birds
disentombed from the bone-caves of Brazil show close affinities to the
toucans and jacanars that still scream and flit in countless flocks
among Brazilian forests. The obvious implication is that the animals now
inhabiting any given area are the modified descendants of those that
formerly inhabited it. 'On the theory of descent with modification, the
great law of the succession of the same types within the same areas is
at once explained.'

This last consideration leads us up to the argument from Geographical
Distribution. In considering the various local faunas and floras on the
face of the globe, no point strikes one more forcibly than the fact that
neither their similarities nor their dissimilarities can be accounted
for by climate or physical conditions. The animals of South Africa do
not in the least resemble the animals of the corresponding belt of South
America; the Australian beasts and birds and trees are utterly unlike
those of France and Germany; the fishes and crustaceans of the Pacific
at Panama are widely different from those of the Caribbean at the same
point, separated from them only by the narrow belt of intervening
isthmus. On the other hand, within the same continuous areas of sea or
land, however great the differences of physical conditions, we find
everywhere closely related types in possession of the most distinct and
varied situations. On the burning plains of La Plata we get the agouti
and the bizcacha as the chief rodents; we ascend the Cordillera, and
close to the eternal snows we discover, not hares and rabbits like those
of Europe, but a specialised chilly mountain form of the same distinctly
South American type. We turn to the rivers, and we see no musk-rat or
beaver, but the coypu and capybara, slightly altered varieties of the
original bizcacha ancestor. Australia has no wolf, but it has instead
fierce and active carnivorous marsupials; it has no mice, but some of
its tiny kangaroo-like creatures fulfil analogous functions in its
animal economy. Everywhere the evidence points to the conclusion that
local species have been locally evolved from pre-existing similar
species. The oceanic isles, of which Darwin had had so large an
experience, and especially his old friends the Galapagos, come in
usefully for this stage of the question. They are invariably inhabited,
as Darwin pointed out, and as Wallace has since abundantly shown in the
minutest detail, by waifs and strays from neighbouring continents,
altered and specialised by natural selection in accordance with the
conditions of their new habitat. As a rule, they point back to the
districts whence blow the strongest and most prevalent winds; and the
modifications they have undergone are largely dependent upon the nature
of the other species with which they have to compete, or to whose habits
they must needs accommodate themselves. In such cases it is easy to see
how far Darwin's special conception of natural selection helps to
explain and account for facts not easily explicable by the older
evolutionism of mere descent with modification.

Embryology, the study of early development in the individual animal or
plant, also throws much side light upon the nature and ancestry of each
species or family. For example, gorse, which is a member of the
pea-flower tribe, has in its adult stage solid, spiny, thorn-like
leaves, none of which in the least resemble the foliage of the clover,
to which it is closely related; but the young seedling in its earliest
stages has trefoil leaves, which only slowly pass by infinitesimal
gradations into flat blades and finally into the familiar defensive
prickles. Here, natural selection under stress of herbivorous animals on
open heaths and commons has spared only those particular gorse-bushes
which varied in the direction of the stiffest and most inedible foliage;
but the young plant in its first days still preserves for us the trefoil
leaf which it shared originally with a vast group of clover-like
congeners. The adult barnacle, once more, presents a certain fallacious
external resemblance to a mollusk, and was actually so classed even by
the penetrating and systematic intellect of Cuvier; but a glance at the
larva shows an instructed eye at once that it is really a shell-making
and abnormal crustacean. On a wider scale, the embryos of mammals are at
first indistinguishable from those of birds or reptiles; the feet of
lizards, the hoofs of horses, the hands of man, the wings of the bat,
the pinions of birds, all arise from the same fundamental shapeless bud,
in the same spot of an almost identical embryo. Even the human foetus,
at a certain stage of its development, is provided with gill-slits,
which point dimly back to the remote ages when its ancestor was
something very like a fish. The embryo is a picture, more or less
obscured and blurred in its outline, of the common progenitor of a whole
great class of plants or animals.

Finally, classification points in the same way to the affiliation of all
existing genera and species upon certain early divergent ancestors. The
whole scheme of the biological system, as initiated by Linnaeus and
improved by Cuvier, Jussieu, De Candolle, and their successors, is
essentially that of a genealogical tree. The prime central vertebrate
ancestor--to take the case of the creatures most familiar to the general
reader--appears to have been an animal not unlike the existing lancelet,
a mud-haunting, cartilaginous, undeveloped fish, whose main lineaments
are also embryologically preserved for us in the ascidian larva and the
common tadpole. From this early common centre have been developed,
apparently, in one direction the fishes, and in another the amphibian
tribes of frogs, newts, salamanders, and axolotls. From an early
amphibian, again, the common ancestor of birds, reptiles, and mammals
seems to have diverged: the intermediate links between bird and reptile
being faintly traced among the extinct deinosaurians and the
archaeopteryx, some years subsequently to the first appearance of the
'Origin of Species;' while the ornithorhynchus, which to some extent
connects the mammals, and especially the marsupials, with the lower
egg-laying types of vertebrate, was already well-known and thoroughly
studied before the publication of Darwin's great work. Throughout, the
indications given by all the chief tribes of animals and plants point
back to slow descent and divergence from common ancestors; and all the
subsequent course of palaeontological research has supplied us rapidly,
one after another, with the remains of just such undifferentiated
family starting-points.

Stress has mainly been laid, in this brief and necessarily imperfect
abstract, on the essentially Darwinian principle of natural selection.
But Darwin did not himself attribute everything to this potent factor in
the moulding of species. 'I am convinced,' he wrote pointedly in the
introduction to his first edition, 'that natural selection has been the
main but not the exclusive means of modification.' He attributed
considerable importance as well to the Lamarckian principle of use and
disuse, already so fully insisted upon before him by Mr. Herbert
Spencer. The chief factors in his compound theory, as given in his own
words at the end of his work, areas follows: 'Growth with Reproduction;
Inheritance, which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability, from
the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use
and disuse; a Ratio of Increase, so high as to lead to a Struggle for
Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of
Character, and the Extinction of the less improved forms. Thus, from the
war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we
are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals,
directly follows.'

Such was the simple and inoffensive-looking bombshell which Darwin
launched from his quiet home at Down into the very midst of the
teleological camp in the peaceful year 1859. Subsequent generations will
remember the date as a crisis and turning-point in the history of

[2] The remainder of the present chapter, which consists almost entirely
of an exposition of the doctrine of natural selection, may safely be
skipped by the reader already well acquainted with the Origin of
Species. The abstract is taken for the most part from the latest and
fullest enlarged edition, but attention is usually called in passing to
the points which did not appear in the first issue of 1859.

[3] The researches of Seebohm and others have since proved that this is
really the case to a far greater extent than Darwin was aware of in
1859, or, indeed, till many years afterward.



So far as the scientific world was concerned the 'Origin of Species'
fell, like a grain of mustard seed, upon good and well-prepared ground;
the plant that sprang from it grew up forthwith into a great and stately
tree, that overshadowed with its spreading branches all the corners of
the earth.

The soil, indeed, had been carefully broken for it beforehand: Lamarck
and St. Hilaire, Spencer and Chambers, had ploughed and harrowed in all
diligence; and the minds of men were thoroughly ready for the
assimilation of the new doctrine. But the seed itself, too, was the
right germ for the exact moment; it contained within itself the
vivifying principle that enabled it to grow and wax exceeding great
where kindred germs before had withered away, or had borne but scanty
and immature fruit.

Two conditions contributed to this result, one external, the other

First for the less important external consideration. Darwin himself was
a sound man with an established reputation for solidity and learning.
That gained for his theory from the very first outset universal respect
and a fair hearing. Herbert Spencer was known to be a philosopher: and
the practical English nation mistrusts philosophers: those people probe
too deep and soar too high for any sensible person to follow them in all
their flights. Robert Chambers, the unknown author of 'Vestiges of
Creation,' was a shallow sciolist; it was whispered abroad that he was
even inaccurate and slovenly in his facts: and your scientific plodder
detests the very shadow of minute inaccuracy, though it speak with the
tongues of men and angels, and be bound up with all the grasp and power
of a Newton or a Goethe. But Charles Darwin was a known personage, an
F.R.S., a distinguished authority upon coral reefs and barnacles, a
great geologist, a great biologist, a great observer and indefatigable
collector. His book came into the public hands stamped with the
imprimatur of official recognition. Darwin was the father of the infant
theory; Lyell and Hooker stood for its sponsors. The world could not
afford to despise its contents; they could not brand its author offhand
as a clever dreamer or a foolish amateur, or consign him to the dreaded
English limbo of the 'mere theorist.'

Next, for the other and far more important internal consideration. The
book itself was one of the greatest, the most learned, the most lucid,
the most logical, the most crushing, the most conclusive, that the world
had ever yet seen. Step by step, and principle by principle, it proved
every point in its progress triumphantly before it went on to
demonstrate the next. So vast an array of facts so thoroughly in hand
had never before been mustered and marshalled in favour of any
biological theory. Those who had insight to learn and understand were
convinced at once by the cogency of the argument; those who had not were
overpowered and silenced by the weight of the authority and the mass of
the learning. A hot battle burst forth at once, no doubt, around the
successful volume; but it was one of those battles which are aroused
only by great truths,--a battle in which the victory is a foregone
conclusion, and the rancour of the assailants the highest compliment to
the prowess of the assailed.

Darwin himself, in his quiet country home at Down, was simply astonished
at the rapid success of his own work. The first edition was published at
the end of November 1859; it was exhausted almost immediately, and a
second was got ready in hot haste by the beginning of January 1860. In
less than six weeks the book had become famous, and Darwin found himself
the centre of a European contest, waged with exceeding bitterness, over
the truth or falsity of his wonderful volume. To the world at large
Darwinism and evolution became at once synonymous terms. The same people
who would entirely ascribe the Protestant Reformation to the account of
Luther, and the inductive philosophy to the account of Bacon, also
believed, in the simplicity of their hearts, that the whole vast
evolutionary movement was due at bottom to that very insidious and
dangerous book of Mr. Darwin's.

The fact is, profound as had been the impulses in the evolutionary
direction among men of science before Darwin's work appeared at all,
immense as were the throes and pangs of labour throughout all Europe
which preceded and accompanied its actual birth, when it came at last it
came to the general world of unscientific readers with all the sudden
vividness and novelty of a tremendous earthquake. Long predestined, it
was yet wholly unexpected. Men at large had known nothing or next to
nothing of this colossal but hidden revolutionary force which had been
gathering head and energy for so many years unseen within the bowels of
the earth; and now that its outer manifestation had actually burst upon
them, they felt the solid ground of dogmatic security bodily giving way
beneath their feet, and knew not where to turn in their extremity for
support. Naturally, it was the theological interest that felt itself at
first most forcibly assailed. The first few chapters of Genesis, or
rather the belief in their scientific and historical character, already
sapped by the revelations of geology, seemed to orthodox defenders to be
fatally undermined if the Darwinian hypothesis were once to meet with
general recognition. The first resource of menaced orthodoxy is always
to deny the alleged facts; the second is to patch up tardily the feeble
and hollow _modus vivendi_ of an artificial pact. On this occasion the
orthodox acted strictly after their kind: but to their credit it should
be added that they yielded gracefully in the long run to the unanimous
voice of scientific opinion. Twenty-three years later, when all that was
mortal of Charles Darwin was being borne with pomp and pageantry to its
last resting-place in Westminster Abbey, enlightened orthodoxy, with
generous oblivion, ratified a truce over the dead body of the great
leader, and, outgrowing its original dread of naturalistic
interpretations, accepted his theory without reserve as 'not necessarily
hostile to the main fundamental truths of religion.' Let us render
justice to the vanquished in a memorable struggle. Churchmen followed
respectfully to the grave with frank and noble inconsistency the
honoured remains of the very teacher whom less than a quarter of a
century earlier they had naturally dreaded as loosening the traditional
foundations of all accepted religion and morality.

But if the attack was fierce and bitter, the defence was assisted by a
sudden access of powerful forces from friendly quarters. A few of the
elder generation of naturalists held out, indeed, for various shorter or
longer periods; some of them never came into the camp at all, but
lingered on, left behind, like stragglers from the onward march, by the
younger biologists, in isolated non-conformity on the lonely heights of
austere officialism. Their business was to ticket and docket and
pigeon-hole, not to venture abroad on untried wings into the airy
regions of philosophical speculation. The elder men, in fact, had many
of them lost that elasticity and modifiability of intellect which is
necessary for the reception of new and revolutionary fundamental
concepts. A mind that has hardened down into the last stage of extreme
maturity may assimilate fresh facts and fresh minor principles, but it
cannot assimilate fresh synthetic systems of the entire cosmos.
Moreover, some of the elder thinkers were committed beforehand to
opposing views, with which they lacked either the courage or the
intellectual power to break; while others were entangled by religious
restrictions, and unable to free themselves from the cramping fetters of
a narrow orthodoxy. But even among his own contemporaries and seniors
Darwin found not a few whose minds were thoroughly prepared beforehand
for the reception of his lucid and luminous hypothesis; while the
younger naturalists, with the plasticity of youth, assimilated almost
to a man, with the utmost avidity, the great truths thus showered down
upon them by the preacher of evolution.

Sir Joseph Hooker and Professor Huxley were among the first to give in
their adhesion and stand up boldly for the new truth by the side of the
reckless and disturbing innovator. In June 1859, nearly a year after the
reading of the Darwin-Wallace papers at the Linnean Society, but five
months previously to the publication of the 'Origin of Species,' Huxley
lectured at the Royal Institution on 'Persistent Types of Animal Life,'
and declared against the old barren theory of successive creations, in
favour of the new and fruitful hypothesis of gradual modification. In
December 1859, a month later than the appearance of Darwin's book,
Hooker published his 'Introduction to the Flora of Australia,' in the
first part of which he championed the belief in the descent and
modification of species, and enforced his views by many original
observations drawn from the domain of botanical science. For fifteen
years, as Darwin himself gratefully observed in his introduction to the
'Origin of Species,' that learned botanist had shared the secret of
natural selection, and aided its author in every possible way by his
large stores of knowledge and his excellent judgment. Bates, the
naturalist on the Amazons, followed fast with his beautiful and striking
theory of mimicry, a crucial instance well explained. The facts of the
strange disguises which birds and insects often assume had long been
present to his acute mind, and he hailed with delight the discovery of
the new principle, which at once enabled him to reduce them with ease
to symmetry and order. To Herbert Spencer, an evolutionist in fibre from
the very beginning, the fresh doctrine of natural selection came like a
powerful ally and an unexpected assistant in deciphering the deep
fundamental problems on which he was at that moment actually engaged;
and in his 'Principles of Biology,' even then in contemplation, he at
once adopted and utilised the new truth with all the keen and vigorous
insight of his profound analytic and synthetic intellect. The first part
of that important work was issued to subscribers just three years after
the original appearance of the 'Origin of Species;' the first volume was
fully completed in October 1864. It is to Mr. Spencer that we owe the
pellucid expression 'survival of the fittest,' which conveys even better
than Darwin's own phrase, 'natural selection,' the essential element
added by the 'Origin of Species' to the pre-existing evolutionary

The British Association for the Advancement of Science held its big
annual doctrinaire picnic the next summer after the publication of
Darwin's book, at Oxford. The Oxford meeting was a stormy and a
well-remembered one. The 'Origin of Species' was there discussed and
attacked before a biological section strangely enough presided over by
Darwin's old Cambridge teacher, Professor Henslow. Though then a
beneficed parish priest, Henslow had the boldness frankly to avow his
own acceptance of his great pupil's startling conclusions. Huxley
followed in the same path, as did also Lubbock and Hooker. On the whole,
the evolutionists were already in the ascendant; the fresh young
intellects especially being quick to seize upon the new pabulum so
generously dealt out to them by the new evolutionism.

Among scientific minds of the first order, Lyell alone in England,
heavily weighted by theological preconceptions, for awhile hung back.
All his life long, as his letters show us, the great geologist had felt
the powerful spell of the Lamarckian hypothesis continually enticing him
with its seductive charm. He had fought against it blindly, in the
passionate endeavour to preserve what he thought his higher faith in the
separate and divine creation of man; but ever and anon he returned anew
to the biological Circe with a fresh fascination, as the moth returns to
the beautiful flame that has scorched and singed it. In a well-known
passage in the earlier editions of his 'Principles of Geology,' the
father of uniformitarianism gives at length his own reasons for
dissenting from the doctrine of evolution as then set forth; and even
after Darwin's discovery had supplied him with a new clue, a _vera
causa_, a sufficient power for the modification of species into fresh
forms, theological difficulties made him cling still as long as possible
to the old theory of the origin of man which he loved to describe as
that of the 'archangel ruined.' He was loth to exchange this cherished
belief for the degrading alternative (as it approved itself to him) of
the ape elevated. But in the end, with the fearless honesty of a
searcher after truth, he gave way slowly and regretfully. Always looking
back with something like remorse to the flesh-pots of the ecclesiastical
Egypt, with its enticing visions of fallen grandeur, the great thinker
whose uniformitarian theory of geology had more than aught else paved
the way for the gradual acceptance of Darwin's evolutionism, came out
at last from the house of bondage, and nobly ranged himself on the side
of what his intellect judged to be the truth of nature, though his
emotions urged him hard to blind his judgment and to neglect its lights
for an emotional figment. Science has no more pathetic figure than that
of the old philosopher, in his sixty-sixth year, throwing himself with
all the eagerness of youth into what he had long considered the wrong
scale, and vigorously wrecking in the 'Antiquity of Man' what seemed to
the dimmed vision of his own emotional nature the very foundations of
his beloved creed. But still he did it. He came out and was separate. In
his own idiomatic language, he found at last that 'we must go the whole
ourang;' and, deep as was the pang that the recantation cost him, he
formally retracted the condemnation of 'transformism' in his earlier
works, and accepted, however unwillingly, the theory he had so often and
so deliberately rejected.

The 'Antiquity of Man' came out in February 1863, some three years after
the 'Origin of Species.' For some time speculation had been active over
the strange hatchets which Boucher de Perthes had recently unearthed
among the Abbeville drift--shapeless masses of chipped flint rudely
fashioned into the form of an axe, which we now call palaeolithic
implements, and know to be the handicraft of preglacial men. But until
Lyell's authoritative work appeared the unscientific public could not
tell exactly what to think of these curious and almost unhuman-looking
objects. Lyell at once set all doubts at rest; the magic of his name
silenced the derisive whispers of the dissidents. Already, in the
previous year, the first fasciculus of Colenso's famous work on the
Pentateuch had dealt a serious blow from the ecclesiastical and critical
side at the authenticity and historical truth of the Mosaic cosmogony.
Lyell now from the scientific side completely demolished its literal
truth, as ordinarily interpreted, by throwing back the primitive origin
of our race into a dim past of immeasurable antiquity. In so doing he
was clearing the way for Charles Darwin's second great work, 'The
Descent of Man;' and by incorporating in his book Huxley's remarks on
the Neanderthal skull, and much similar evolutionary matter, he
advertised the new creed in the animal origin of our race with all the
acquired weight of his immense and justly-deserved European reputation.
As a matter of taste, Lyell did not relish the application of
evolutionism to his own species. But, with that perfect loyalty to fact
which he shared so completely with Charles Darwin, as soon as he found
the evidence overwhelming, he gave in. By that grudging concession he
immensely strengthened the position of the new creed. 'I plead guilty,'
he writes to Sir Joseph Hooker, 'to going farther in my reasoning
towards transmutation than in my sentiments and imagination, and perhaps
for that very reason I shall lead more people on to Darwin and you, than
one who, being born later, like Lubbock, has comparatively little to
abandon of old and long-cherished ideas, which constituted the charm to
me of the theoretical part of the science in my earlier days.' And to
Darwin himself he writes regretfully. 'The descent of man from the
brutes takes away much of the charm from my speculations on the past
relating to such matters.' This very reluctance itself told powerfully
in favour of Charles Darwin's novel theories: there is no evidence more
valuable to a cause than that which it extorts by moral force, in spite
of himself, from the faltering lips of an unwilling witness.

The same year that saw the publication of Lyell's 'Antiquity of Man' saw
also the first appearance of Huxley's work on 'Man's Place in Nature.'
Darwin himself had been anxious rather than otherwise to avoid too close
reference to the implications of his theory as regards the origin and
destiny of the human race. He had desired that his strictly scientific
views on the rise of specific distinctions should be judged entirely on
their own merits, unhampered by the interference of real or supposed
theological and ethical considerations. His own language on all such
subjects, wherever he was compelled to trench on them in the 'Origin of
Species,' was guarded and conciliatory; he scarcely referred at all to
man or his history; and his occasional notices of the moving principle
and first cause of the entire cosmos were reverential and religious in
the truest sense and in the highest degree. But you cannot let loose a
moral whirlwind, and then attempt to direct its course; you cannot open
the floodgates of opinion or of speculation, and then pretend to set
limits to the scope of their restless motion. Darwin soon found out that
people would insist in drawing inferences beyond what was written, and
in seeing implicit conclusions when they were not definitely formulated
in the words of their author. 'Man is perennially interesting to man,'
says the great chaotic American thinker; and whatever all-embracing
truth you set before him, you may be sure that man will see in it
chiefly the implications that most closely affect his own happiness and
his own destiny. The biological question of the origin of species is a
sufficiently wide one, but it includes also, among other cases, the
origin of the very familiar species _Homo sapiens_ of Linnaeus. Some
theologians jumped at once at the conclusion, right or wrong, that if
Darwinism were true man was nothing more than a developed monkey, the
immortal soul was an exploded myth, the foundations of religion itself
were shattered, and the wave of infidelity was doomed to swamp the whole
of Christendom with its blank nihilism. Scientific men, on the other
hand, drew the conclusion that man must be descended, like other
mammals, from some common early vertebrate ancestor, and that the
current views of his origin and destiny must be largely modified by the
evolutionary creed. Of this profound scientific belief Professor
Huxley's maiden work was the earliest outcome.

Meantime, on the continent of Europe and over-sea in America, the
Darwinian theory was being hotly debated and warmly defended. France,
coldly sceptical and critical, positive rather than imaginative in
matters of science, and little prone by native cast of mind to the
evolutionary attitude, stood aloof to a great extent from the onward
course of the general movement. Here and there, to be sure, a Gaudry or
a Ribot, a Delboeuf or a De Candolle (the two latter a Liege Belgian and
a Genevan Swiss) might heartily throw himself into the new ideas, and
contribute whole squadrons of geological or botanical fact to the final
victory. Yet, as a whole, the dry and cautious French intelligence, ever
inclined to a scientific opportunism, preferred for the moment to stand
by expectant and await the result of the European consensus. But
philosophical Germany, on the other hand, beaming enthusiasm from its
myriad spectacles, eagerly welcomed the novel ideas, and proclaimed from
the housetops the evolutionary faith as a main plank in the rising
platform of the newly-roused Kulturkampf. Fritz Mueller began with all
the ardour of a fresh convert to collect his admirable 'Facts for
Darwin;' his brother Hermann sat down with indomitable patience, like
the master's own, to watch the ceaseless action of the bees and
butterflies in the fertilisation of flowers. Ruetimeyer applied the
Darwinian principles to the explanation of mammalian relationships, and
Haeckel set to work upon his vast reconstructive 'History of Creation,'
a largely speculative work which, with all its faults, distinctly
carried forward the evolutionary impulse, and set fresh researchers
working upon new lines, to confirm or to disprove its audacious
imaginings. In America, Asa Gray gave to the young creed the high
authority of his well-known name, and Chauncey Wright helped it onward
on the road with all the restrained force of his singular and oblique
but powerful and original personality. If Agassiz and Dawson still
hesitated, Fiske and Youmans were ardent in the faith. If critical
Boston put up its eye-glass doubtfully, Chicago and St. Louis were ready
for conversion. Everywhere Darwin and Darwinism became as household
words; it was the singular fate of the great prophet of evolution, alone
almost among the sons of men, to hear his own name familiarly twisted
during his own lifetime into a colloquial adjective, and to see the
Darwinian theory and the errors of Darwinism staring him in the face a
hundred times a day from every newspaper and every periodical.

Of course the 'Origin of Species' was largely translated at once into
all the civilised languages of Europe, Russian as well as French, Dutch
as well as German, Swedish as well as Italian, Spanish as well as
Hungarian, nay even, at last, transcending narrow continental limits,
Japanese as well as Hindustani. The revolution which it was rapidly
effecting was indeed a revolution in every mode of thought and feeling
as well as a revolution in mere restricted biological opinion. But all
this time, the modest, single-minded, and unassuming author was working
unmoved among his plants and pigeons in his home at Down, regardless of
the European fame he was so quickly acquiring, and anxious only to bring
to a termination the vast work which he still contemplated. A little
more than eleven years intervened between the publication of the 'Origin
of Species,' in 1859, and the first appearance of the 'Descent of Man,'
in 1871. The interval was occupied in carrying out in part the gigantic
scheme of his original collections for the full treatment of the
development theory. The work published in 1859 Darwin regarded merely as
an abstract and preliminary outline of his full opinions: 'No one can
feel more sensible than I do,' he wrote, 'of the necessity of hereafter
publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my
conclusions have been grounded.' The marvellously learned work on the
'Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' which came out in
two volumes in 1867, formed the first instalment of this long-projected
treatise. The second part, as he told Mr. Fiske, was to have treated of
the variation of animals and plants through natural selection; while the
third part would have dealt at length with the phenomena of morphology,
of classification, and of distribution in space and time. But these
latter portions of the work were never written. To say the truth, they
were never needed. So universal was the recognition among the younger
men of Darwin's discovery, that before ten years were over innumerable
workers were pushing out the consequences of natural selection into
every field of biology and palaeontology. It seemed no longer so
necessary as it had once seemed to write the larger and more elaborate
treatise he had originally contemplated.

The volume on the variation of animals and plants contained also
Darwin's one solitary contribution to the pure speculative philosophy of
life--his 'Provisional Hypothesis of Pangenesis,' by which he strove to
account on philosophical principles for the general facts of physical
and mental heredity. Not to mince matters, it was his one conspicuous
failure, and is now pretty universally admitted as such. Let not the
love of the biographer deceive us; Darwin was here attempting a task
_ultra vires_. As already observed, his mind, vast as it was, leaned
rather to the concrete than to the abstract side: he lacked the
distinctively metaphysical and speculative twist. Strange to say, too,
his abortive theory appeared some years later than Herbert Spencer's
magnificent all-sided conception of 'Physiological Units,' put forth
expressly to meet the self-same difficulty. But while Darwin's
hypothesis is rudely materialistic, Herbert Spencer's is built up by an
acute and subtle analytical perception of all the analogous facts in
universal nature. It is a singular instance of a crude and essentially
unphilosophic conception endeavouring to replace a finished and delicate
philosophical idea.

Earlier still, in 1862, Darwin had published his wonderful and
fascinating book on the 'Fertilisation of Orchids.' It is delightful to
contemplate the picture of the unruffled naturalist, in the midst of
that universal storm of ecclesiastical obloquy and scientific enthusiasm
which he had roused throughout Europe, sitting down calmly in his
Kentish conservatory to watch the behaviour of catasetums and
masdevallias, and to work out the details of his chosen subject, with
that marvellous patience of which he was so great a master, in the
pettiest minutiae of fertilisation as displayed by a single highly
developed family of plants. Whoever wishes to learn the full profundity
of Darwin's researches, into every point that he set himself to
investigate, cannot do better than turn for a while to the consideration
of that exquisite treatise on one of the quaintest fairylands of
science. He will there learn by what an extraordinary wealth of cunning
devices natural selection has ensured the due conveyance of the
fecundating pollen from stamens to stigmas within the limits of a single
group of vegetable organisms. Here the fertilising mass is gummed
automatically between the eyes of the exploring bee, and then bent round
by the drying of its stalk so as to come in contact with the stigmatic
surface. There the pollen club is jerked out elastically by a sensitive
fibre, and actually flung by its irritable antennae at the unconscious
head of the fertilising insect. In one case, the lip of the flower
secretes moisture and forms a sort of cold bath, which wets the wings of
the bees, so compelling them to creep out of the bucket by a passage
close to the anthers and stigma; in another case, the honey is concealed
at the bottom of so long a tube that only the proper fertilising moth
with a proboscis of ten or eleven inches in length can probe the deep
recess in which it is hidden. These, and a hundred other similar
instances, were all carefully considered and described by the great
naturalist as the by-work with which he filled up one of the intervals
between his greater and more comprehensive treatises.

In the decade between 1860 and 1870 the progress of Darwinism was rapid
and continuous. One by one, the few scientific men who still held out
were overborne by the weight of evidence. Geology kept supplying fresh
instances of transitional forms; the progress of research in unexplored
countries kept adding to our knowledge of existing intermediate species
and varieties. During those ten years, Herbert Spencer published his
'First Principles,' his 'Biology,' and the remodelled form of his
'Psychology;' Huxley brought out 'Man's Place in Nature,' the 'Lectures
on Comparative Anatomy,' and the 'Introduction to the Classification of
Animals;' Wallace produced his 'Malay Archipelago' and his
'Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection;' and Galton wrote his
admirable work on 'Hereditary Genius,' of which his own family is so
remarkable an instance. Tyndall and Lewes had long since signified their
warm adhesion. At Oxford, Rolleston was bringing up a fresh generation
of young biologists in the new faith; at Cambridge, Darwin's old
university, a whole school of brilliant and accurate physiologists was
beginning to make itself both felt and heard in the world of science. In
the domain of anthropology, Tylor was welcoming the assistance of the
new ideas, while Lubbock was engaged on his kindred investigations into
the Origin of Civilisation and the Primitive Condition of Man. All these
diverse lines of thought both showed the wide-spread influence of
Darwin's first great work, and led up to the preparation of his second,
in which he dealt with the history and development of the human race.
And what was thus true of England was equally true of the civilised
world, regarded as a whole: everywhere the great evolutionary movement
was well in progress; everywhere the impulse sent forth from that quiet
Kentish home was permeating and quickening the entire pulse of
intelligent humanity.

Why was it that the 'Origin of Species' possessed this extraordinary
vitalising and kinetic power, this germinal energy, this contagious
force, beyond all other forms of evolutionism previously promulgated?
Why did the world, that listened so coldly to Lamarck and Chambers, turn
so ready an ear to Charles Darwin and natural selection? Partly, no
doubt, because in the fulness of time the moment had come and the
prophet had arisen. All great movements are long brewing, and burst out
at last (like the Reformation and the French Revolution) with explosive
energy. But the cause is largely to be found, also, I believe, in the
peculiar nature of the Darwinian solution. True, a thoroughly logical
mind, a mind of the very highest order, would have said even before
Darwin, 'Creation can have no possible place in the physical series of
things at all. How organisms came to be I do not yet exactly see; but I
am sure they must have come to be by some merely physical process, if we
could only find it out.' And such minds were all actually evolutionary
even before Darwin had made the _modus operandi_ of evolution
intelligible. But most people are not so clear-sighted. They require to
have everything proved to them by the strictest collocation of actual
instances. They will not believe unless one rise from the dead. There
are men who rejected the raw doctrine of special creation on evidence
adduced; and there are men who never even for a moment entertained it as
conceivable. The former compose the mass of the scientific world, and it
was for their conversion that the Darwinian hypothesis was so highly
salutary. As Professor Fiske rightly remarks, 'The truth is that before
the publication of the "Origin of Species" there was no opinion whatever
current respecting the subject that deserved to be called a scientific
hypothesis. That the more complex forms of life must have come into
existence through some process of development from simpler forms was no
doubt the only sensible and rational view to take of the subject; but in
a vague and general opinion of this sort there is nothing that is
properly scientific. A scientific hypothesis must connect the phenomena
with which it deals by alleging a "true cause;" and before 1859 no one
had suggested a "true cause" for the origination of new species,
although the problem was one over which every philosophical naturalist
had puzzled since the beginning of the century. This explains why Mr.
Darwin's success was so rapid and complete, and it also explains why he
came so near being anticipated.' To put it briefly, _a priori_, creation
is from the very first unbelievable; but, as a matter of evidence,
Lamarck failed to make evolution comprehensible, or to give a rationale
of its mode of action, while Darwin's theory of natural selection
succeeded in doing so for those who awaited _a posteriori_ proof. Hence
Darwin was able to convert the world, where Lamarck had only been able
to stir up enquiry among the picked spirits of the scientific and
philosophical coterie. Therein lies the true secret of his rapid, his
brilliant, and his triumphant progress. He had found out not only _that_
it was so, but _how_ it was so, too. In Aristotelian phrase, he had
discovered the _pos_ as well as the _hoti_.



In 1871, nearly twelve years after the 'Origin of Species,' Darwin
published his 'Descent of Man.'

We have seen already that he would fain have avoided the treatment of
this difficult and dangerous topic a little longer, so as to let his
main theory be fairly judged on its own merits, without the obtrusion of
theological or personal feelings into so purely biological a question;
but the current was too strong for him, and at last he yielded. On the
one hand, the adversaries had drawn for themselves the conclusion of
man's purely animal origin, and held it up to ridicule under false forms
in the most absurd and odious light. On the other hand, imprudent allies
had put forth under the evolutionary aegis their somewhat hypothetical
and extravagant speculations on this involved subject, which Darwin was
naturally anxious to correct and modify by his own more sober and
guarded inferences. The result was the second great finishing work of
the complete Darwinian system of things.

Ever since evolutionism had begun to be at all it had been observed that
a natural corollary from the doctrine of descent with modification was
the belief in man's common ancestry with the anthropoid apes. As early
as the middle of the last century, indeed, Lord Monboddo, a whimsical
Scotch eccentric, had suggested in his famous book on the origin of
language the idea that men were merely developed monkeys. But this crude
and unorganised statement of a great truth, being ultimately based upon
no distinct physical grounds, deserved scarcely to be classed higher
than the childish evolutionism of 'Telliamed' De Maillet, which makes
birds descend from flying-fish and men the offspring of the hypothetical
tritons. On this point as on most others the earliest definite
scientific views are those of Buffon, who ventured to hint with extreme
caution the possibility of a common ancestry for man and all other
vertebrate animals. Goethe the all-sided had caught a passing glimpse of
the same profound conception about the date of the Reign of Terror; and
Erasmus Darwin had openly announced it, though without much elaboration,
in his precocious and premature 'Zoonomia.' Still more specifically, in
a note to the 'Temple of Nature,' the English evolutionist says: 'It has
been supposed by some that mankind were formerly quadrupeds.... These
philosophers, with Buffon and Helvetius, seem to imagine that mankind
arose from one family of monkeys on the banks of the Mediterranean;' and
in the third canto of that fantastic poem, he enlarges upon the great
part performed by the hand, with its opposable thumb, in the development
and progress of the human species. Lamarck, in his 'Philosophie
Zoologique,' distinctly lays down the doctrine that man is descended
from an ape-like ancestor, which gradually acquired the upright
position, not even now wholly natural to the human race, and maintained
only by the most constant watchfulness. The orang-outang was then the
highest known anthropoid ape; and it was from the orang-outang,
therefore, that the fancy of Lyell and other objectors in the
pre-Darwinian days continually derived the Lamarckian Adam.

The introduction of the chimpanzee into our European Zoological Gardens
gave a fresh type of anthropoid to the crude speculators of the middle
decades of the century; and in 1859, Paul du Chaillu, the explorer and
hunter of the Gaboon country, brought over to America and Europe the
first specimens of the true gorilla ever seen by civilised men. There
can be little doubt that the general interest excited by his narrative
of his adventures (published in London in 1861) and by the well-known
stuffed specimen of the huge African anthropoid ape so long conspicuous
in the rooms of the British Museum, and now surviving (somewhat the
worse for wear) in the natural history collection at South Kensington,
did much to kindle public curiosity as to the nature of our relations
with the lower animals. It is no mere accidental circumstance, indeed,
that Huxley should have brought out 'Man's Place in Nature' just two
years after Du Chaillu's 'Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial
Africa' had made the whole world, lay and learned, familiar with the
name and features of the most human in outer aspect among the anthropoid
family. Thenceforth the gorilla, and not the orang-outang, was popularly
hit upon by scoffer and caricaturist as the imaginary type of our
primitive ancestors.

On the other hand, during the twelve intervening years immense strides
had been made in every department of anthropological science, and the
whole tenor of modern speculation had been clearing the ground for the
'Descent of Man,' In 1865, Rolle in Germany had published his work on
'Man Viewed by the Light of the Darwinian Theory.' Two years later,
Canestrini in Italy read before the Naturalists' Society of Modena his
interesting paper on rudimentary characters as bearing on the origin of
the human species. In 1868, Buechner brought out his rudely materialistic
sledge-hammer lectures on the Darwinian principle; and in 1869, Barrago
flung straight at the head of the Roman clericals his offensive work on
man and the anthropoid apes. Most of these foreign publications were
unhappily marked by that coarse and almost vituperative opposition to
received views which too often disfigures French and German
controversial literature. In England, on the contrary, under our milder
and gentler ecclesiastical yoke, the contest had been conducted with
greater decorum and with far better results. Wallace had broken ground
tentatively and reverently in his essay on the 'Origin of Human Races,'
where he endeavoured to show that man is the co-descendant with the
anthropoid apes of some ancient lower and extinct form. Lubbock's
'Prehistoric Times' (1865) and 'Origin of Civilisation' (1870) helped to
clear the way in the opposite direction by demolishing the old belief,
firmly upheld by Whately and others, that savages represent a degraded
type, and that the civilised state is natural and, so to speak,
congenital to man. Tylor's 'Early History of Mankind' (1865) did still
more eminent service in the same direction. Colenso's 'Pentateuch and
Book of Joshua Critically Examined,' the publication of which began in
1862, had already shaken the foundations of the Mosaic cosmogony, and
incidentally discredited the received view of the direct creation of the
first human family. McLennan's 'Primitive Marriage' (1865) and Herbert
Spencer's articles on the origin of religion had kept speculation alive
along other paths, all tending ultimately towards the same conclusion.
Darwin's own cousin, Hensleigh Wedgwood, and Canon Farrar, had
independently endeavoured to prove that language, instead of being a
divine gift, might have arisen in a purely natural manner from
instinctive cries and the imitation of external sounds. The Duke of
Argyll and Professor Max Mueller, by the obvious feebleness of their
half-hearted replies, had unconsciously aided in disseminating and
enforcing the very views they attempted to combat. Bagehot and Flower,
Maudsley and Jevons, Vogt and Lindsay, Galton and Brown-Sequard had each
in his way contributed facts and arguments ultimately utilised by the
great master architect in building up his consistent and harmonious
edifice. Finally, in 1868, Haeckel had published his 'Natural History of
Creation,' in which he discussed with surprising and perhaps excessive
boldness the various stages in the genealogy of man. These various
works, following so close upon Huxley's 'Man's Place in Nature' and
Lyell's conclusive 'Antiquity of Man,' left Darwin no choice but to set
forth his own reasoned opinions on the subject of the origin and
development of the human species.

The evidence of the descent of man from some lower form, collected and
marshalled together by Darwin, consists chiefly of minute inferential
proofs which hardly admit of deliberate condensation. In his bodily
structure man is formed on the same underlying type or model as all the
other mammals, bone answering throughout to bone, as, for example, in
the fore limb, where homologous parts have been modified in the dog into
toes, in the bat into wing-supports, in the seal into flippers, and in
man himself into fingers and thumb, while still retaining in every case
their essential fundamental likeness of construction. Even the brain of
man resembles closely the brain of the higher monkeys; the differences
which separate him in this respect from the orang or the gorilla are far
slighter than the differences which separate those apes themselves from
the inferior monkeys. Indeed, as Huxley conclusively showed, on
anatomical grounds alone, man must be classed in the order Primates as
only one among the many divergent forms which that order includes within
its wide limits.

In his embryonic development man closely resembles the lower animals,
the human creature being almost indistinguishable in certain stages from
the dog, the bat, the seal, and especially the monkeys. At a very early
age he possesses a slight projecting tail; at another, the great toe is
shorter than its neighbours, and projects like the thumb at a slight
angle; and at a third, the convolutions of the brain reach a point of
development about equivalent to that of the adult baboon. In his first
stages man himself stands far more closely related to the apes than the
apes in turn stand to cats or hyaenas.

Rudiments of muscles not normally found in man occur in many aberrant
human individuals. Some people possess the power of moving their scalps
and wagging their ears like dogs and monkeys; others can twitch the skin
of their bodies, as horses do when worried by flies. Mr. Woolner, the
sculptor, pointed out to Darwin a certain little projecting point or
knob on the margin of the ear, observed by him in the course of
modelling, which comparison shows to be the last folded remnant or
rudiment of the once erect and pointed monkey-like ear-tip. The
nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, once more, which in birds can be
drawn so rapidly across the ball of the eye, and which gives the
familiar glazed or murky appearance, is fairly well developed in the
ornithorhynchus and the kangaroo, as well as in a few higher mammals,
like the walrus; but in man, as in the monkey group, it survives only
under the degenerate form of a practically useless rudiment, the
semilunar fold. Man differs from the other Primates in his apparently
hairless condition; but the hair, though short and downy, still remains
on close inspection, and in some races, such as the Ainos of Japan,
forms a shaggy coat like an orang's or a gibbon's. A few long rough
hairs sometimes project from the short smooth down of the eyebrows; and
these peculiar bristles, occasional only in the human species, are
habitual in the chimpanzee and in many baboons. Internal organs show
similar rudiments, of less enthralling interest, it must be candidly
confessed, to the unscientific outside intelligence. Even the bony
skeleton contributes its share of confirmatory evidence; for in the
lower monkeys and in many other mammals a certain main trunk nerve
passes through a special perforation in the shoulder-blade, and this
perforation, though now almost obsolete, sometimes recurs in man, in
which case the nerve in question invariably passes through it, as in the
inferior monkeys. What is still more remarkable is the fact that the
perforation occurs far more frequently (in proportion) among the
skeletons of very ancient races than among those of our own time. One
chief cause why in this and other cases ancient races often present
structures resembling those of the lower animals seems to be that they
stand nearer in the long line of descent to their remote animal-like

The conclusion at which, after fully examining all the evidence, Darwin
finally arrives is somewhat as follows:

The early ancestors of man must have been more or less monkey-like
animals, belonging to the great anthropoid group, and related to the
progenitors of the orang-outang, the chimpanzee, and the gorilla. They
must have been once covered with hair, both sexes possessing beards.
Their ears were probably pointed and capable of movement, and their
bodies were provided with a movable tail. The foot had a great toe
somewhat thumb-like in its action, with which they could grasp the
branches of trees. They were probably arboreal in their habits,
fruit-eaters by choice, and inhabitants of some warm forest-clad land.
The males had great canine teeth, with which they fought one another for
the possession of the females. At a much earlier period, the internal
anatomical peculiarities approached those of the lowest mammals, and the
eye was provided with a third eyelid. Peering still further back into
the dim abyss of the ages, Darwin vaguely describes the ancestors of
humanity as aquatic animals, allied to the mudfish; for our lungs are
known to consist of modified swim-bladders, which must once have served
our remote progenitors in the office of a float. The gill-clefts on the
neck of the human embryo still point to the spot where the branchiae
once, no doubt, existed. Our primordial birthplace appears to have been
a shore washed twice a day by the recurrent tides. The heart then took
the shape merely of a simple pulsating vessel; and a long undivided
spinal cord usurped the place of the vertebral column. These extremely
primitive ancestors of man, thus dimly beheld across the gulf of ages,
must have been at least as simply and humbly organised as that very
lowest and earliest of existing vertebrates, the worm-like lancelet.

From such a rude and indefinite beginning natural selection, aided by
the various concomitant principles, has slowly built up the pedigree of
man. Starting from these remote half-invertebrate forms, whose vague
shape is still perhaps in part preserved for us by the soft and
jelly-like larva of the modern ascidian, we rise by long stages to a
group of early fishes, like the lancelet itself. From these the ganoids
and then the lung-bearing mudfish must have been gradually developed.
From such fish a very small advance would carry us on to the newts and
other amphibians. The duck-billed platypus helps us slightly to bridge
over the gap between the reptiles and the lower mammals, such as the
kangaroo and the wombat, though the connection with the amphibians is
still, as when Darwin wrote, highly problematical. From marsupials, such
as the kangaroo, we ascend gradually to the insectivorous type
represented by the shrews and hedgehogs, and thence once more by very
well-marked intermediate stages to the lemurs of Madagascar, a group
linked on the one hand to the insectivores, and on the other to the true
monkeys. The monkeys, again, 'branched off into two great stems--the New
World and Old World monkeys; and from the latter, at a remote period,
man, the wonder and glory of the universe, proceeded.'

The word was spoken; the secret was out. The world might well have been
excused for treating it scornfully. But as a matter of fact, the storm
which followed the 'Descent of Man' was as nothing compared with the
torrent of abuse that had pursued the author of the 'Origin of Species.'
In twelve years society had grown slowly accustomed to the once
startling idea, and it listened now with comparatively languid interest
to the final utterance of the great biologist on the question of its own
origin and destinies. In 1859 it cried in horror, 'How very shocking!'
in 1871, it murmured complacently, 'Is that all? Why, everybody knew
that much already!'

Nevertheless, on the moral and social side, the ultimate importance of
the 'Descent of Man' upon the world's history can hardly be overrated by
a philosophic investigator. Vast as was the revolution effected in
biology by the 'Origin of Species,' it was as nothing compared with the
still wider, deeper, and more subtly-working revolution inaugurated by
the announcement of man's purely animal origin. The main discovery,
strange to say, affected a single branch of thought alone; the minor
corollary drawn from it to a single species has already affected, and is
destined in the future still more profoundedly to affect, every
possible sphere of human energy. Not only has it completely reversed our
entire conception of history generally, by teaching us that man has
slowly risen from a very low and humble beginning, but it has also
revolutionised our whole ideas of our own position and our own destiny,
it has permeated the sciences of language and of medicine, it has
introduced new conceptions of ethics and of religion, and it threatens
in the future to produce immense effects upon the theory and practice of
education, of politics, and of economic and social science. These
wide-reaching and deep-seated results began to be felt from the first
moment when the Darwinian principle was definitely promulgated in the
'Origin of Species,' but their final development and general acceptance
was immensely accelerated by Darwin's own authoritative statement in the
'Descent of Man.'

To some among us still, as to Lyell before us, this new belief in the
animal origin of man seems far less beautiful, noble, and inspiriting
than the older faith in his special and separate divine creation. Such
thinkers find it somehow more pleasant and comfortable to suppose that
man has fallen than that man has risen; the doctrine of the universal
degradation of humanity paradoxically appears to them more full of
promise and aspiration for the times to come than the doctrine of its
universal elevation. To Darwin himself, however, it seemed otherwise.
'Man,' he says, 'may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen,
though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic
scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been
aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny
in the distant future.' Surely this is the truer and manlier way of
looking at the reversed and improved attitude of man. Surely it is
better to climb to the top than to have been placed there--and
fallen--at the very outset. Surely it is a nobler view of life that we
may yet by our own strenuous exertions raise our race some places higher
in the endless and limitless hierarchy of nature than that we are the
miserable and hopelessly degenerate descendants of a ruined and degraded
angelic progenitor. Surely it is well, while we boast with Glaucus that
we indeed are far braver and better than our ancestors, to pray at the
same time, in the words of Hector, that our sons may be yet braver and
better than ourselves.



In the same volumes with the 'Descent of Man' Darwin included his
admirable treatise on sexual selection. This form of selection he had
already dealt with briefly in the 'Origin of Species;' but as in his
opinion it was largely instrumental in producing the minor differences
which separate one race of men from another, he found it necessary to
enlarge and expand it in connection with his account of the rise and
progress of the human species.

Among many animals, and especially in the higher classes of animals, the
males and females do not mate together casually; there is a certain
amount of selection or of courtship. In some cases, as with deer and
antelopes, the males fight with one another for the possession of the
females. In other cases, as with the peacock and the humming-birds, the
males display their beauty and their skill before the eyes of the
assembled females. In the first instance, the victor obtains the mates;
in the second instance, the mates themselves select from the group the
handsomest and most personally pleasing competitor. Sexual selection, of
which these are special cases, depends on the advantage possessed by
certain individuals over others of the same sex and species solely in
respect to the question of mating. In all such instances, the males have
acquired their weapons of offence and defence or their ornamental
decorations, not from being better fitted to survive in the struggle for
existence, but from having gained an advantage over other males of the
same kind, and from having transmitted this advantage to offspring of
their own sex alone.

Just as man can improve the breed of his game-cocks by the selection of
those birds which are victorious in the cockpit, so the strongest and
most vigorous males, or those provided with the best weapons, have
prevailed in the state of nature over their feebler and more cowardly
competitors. Just as man can give beauty, according to his own standard
of taste, to his male poultry, by selecting special birds for their
plumage, their port, their wattles, or their hackles, so female birds in
a state of nature have by a long-continued choice of the more attractive
males added to their beauty and their ornamental adjuncts. In these two
ways, Darwin believed, a limited selection has slowly developed weapons
like the horns of buffaloes, the antlers of stags, the tusks of boars,
and the spurs of game-birds, together with the courage, strength, and
pugnacity always associated with such special organs. It has also
developed the ornamental plumage of the peacock, the argus pheasant, and
the birds of paradise; the song of the lark, the thrush, and the
nightingale; the brilliant hues on the face of the mandrill; and the
attractive perfume of the musk-deer, the snakes, and the scented
butterflies. Wherever one sex possesses any decorative or alluring
adjunct not equally shared by the other, Darwin attributed this special
gift either to the law of battle, or to the long and slowly exerted
selective action of their fastidious mates.

The germ of the doctrine of sexual selection is to be found, like so
many other of Charles Darwin's theories, in a prophetic passage of his
grandfather's 'Zoonomia.' Stags, the Lichfield physician tells us, are
provided with antlers 'for the purpose of combating other stags for the
exclusive possession of the females, who are observed, like the ladies
in the time of chivalry, to attend the car of the victor. The birds
which do not carry food to their young, and do not therefore marry, are
armed with spurs for the purpose of fighting for the exclusive
possession of the females, as cocks and quails. It is certain that these
weapons are not provided for their defence against other adversaries,
because the females of these species are without this armour. The final
cause of this contest among the males seems to be that the strongest and
most active animal should propagate the species, which should thence
become improved.'

It must be noticed, however, that Erasmus Darwin here imports into the
question the metaphysical and teleological notion of the final cause,
implying that the struggle of the males was ordained from without, for
this express and preconceived purpose; whereas Charles Darwin, never
transcending the world of phenomena, more logically regards the struggle
itself as an efficient cause, having for its result the survival of the
strongest or the handsomest as the case may be. This distinction is
fundamental; it marks the gulf between the essentially teleological
spirit of the eighteenth century and the essentially positive spirit of
philosophy and science at the present day.

Here again, too, the immense logical superiority of Charles Darwin's
rigorous and exhaustive inductive method over the loose suggestiveness
of his grandfather Erasmus may easily be observed. For while Erasmus
merely throws out a clever and interesting hint as to the supposed
method and intention of nature, Charles Darwin proves his thesis, point
by point, with almost mathematical exactitude, leaving no objection
unmet behind him, but giving statistical and inductive warrant for every
step in his cumulative argument. He goes carefully into the numerical
proportion of the two sexes in various species; into the relative dates
of arrival in any particular country of the males and females of
migratory birds; into the question whether any individuals ever remain
in the long run unpaired; into the chances of the earliest-mated or most
vigorous couples leaving behind more numerous or stronger offspring to
represent them in the next generation. He collects from every quarter
and from all sources whatever available evidence can be obtained as to
the courtship and rivalry of birds and butterflies, of deer and
antelopes, of fish and lizards. He shows by numerous examples and
quotations how even flies coquet together in their pretty rhythmical
aerial dances; how wasps battle eagerly with one another to secure
possession of their unconcerned mates; how cicadas strive to win their
'voiceless brides' with stridulating music; how sphinx-moths endeavour
to allure their partners with the musky odour of their pencilled wings;
and how emperors and orange-tips display their gorgeous spots and bands
in the broad sunshine before the admiring and attentive eyes of their
observant dames. He traces up the same spirit of rivalry and ostentation
to the cock-pheasant strutting about before the attendant hen, and to
the meeting-places of the blackcock, where all the males of the district
fight with one another and undertake long love-dances in regular
tournaments, while the females stand by and watch the chances and
changes of the contest with affected indifference. Finally, he points
out how similar effects are produced by like causes among the higher
animals, especially among our near relations the monkeys; and then he
proceeds to apply the principles thus firmly grounded to the particular
instance of the human race itself, the primary object of his entire

Some of the most interesting of the modifications due to this particular
form of selective action are to be found amongst the insects and other
low types of animal life. The crickets, the locusts, and the
grasshoppers, for example, are all famous for their musical powers; but
the sounds themselves are produced in the different families by very
different and quaintly varied organs. The song of the crickets is evoked
by the scraping of minute teeth on the under side of either wing-cover;
in the case of the locusts, the left wing, which acts as a bow, overlies
the right wing, which serves as a fiddle; while with the grasshoppers,
the leg does duty as the musical instrument, and has a row of
lancet-shaped elastic knobs along its outer surface, which the insect
rubs across the nerves of the wing-covers when it wishes to charm the
ears and rouse the affection of its silent mate. In a South African
species of the same family, the whole body of the male is fairly
converted into a musical instrument, being immensely inflated, hollow,
and distended like a pellucid air-bladder in order to act as an
efficient sounding-board. Among the beetles, taste seems generally to
have specialised itself rather on form than on music or colour, and the
males are here usually remarkable for their singular and very
complicated horns, often compared in various species to those of stags
or rhinoceroses, and entirely absent in the females of most kinds. But
it is among the butterflies and moths that insect aestheticism has
produced its greatest artistic triumphs; for here the beautiful
eye-spots and delicate markings on the expanded wing-membranes are
almost certainly due to sexual selection.

The higher animals display like evidence of the same slow selective
action. The courtship of the stickleback, who dances 'mad with delight'
around the mate he has allured into the nest he prepares for her, has
been observed by dozens of observers both before and since in the
domestic aquarium. The gem-like colours of the male dragonet, the
butterfly wings of certain gurnards, and the decorated tails of some
exotic carps all point in the same direction. Our own larger newt is
adorned during the breeding season with a serrated crest edged with
orange; while in the smaller kind the colours of the body acquire at the
same critical period of love-making a vivid brilliancy. The strange
horns and luridly coloured throat-pouches of tropical lizards are
familiar to all visitors in equatorial climates, and they are confined
exclusively to the male sex. Among birds, the superior beauty of the
male plumage is known to everybody; and their greatest glory invariably
coincides with the special season for the selection of mates. In the
spring, as even our poets have told us, the wanton lapwing gets himself
another crest. The law of battle produces the spur of the game-birds and
the still stranger wing-spurs of certain species of the plover kind.
AEsthetic rivalry is answerable rather for vocal music, and for the
plumage of the umbrella-bird, the lyre-bird, the humming-birds, and the
cock of the rocks. Among mammals, strength rather than beauty seems to
have carried the day; horns, and tusks, and spikes, and antlers are here
the special guerdon of the victorious males. Yet even mammals show
occasional signs of distinctly aesthetic and artistic preferences, as in
the gracefully twisted horns of the koodoo, the scent-glands of the
musk-deer or of certain antelopes, the brilliant hues of the male
mandrill, and the tufts and moustaches of so many monkeys.

It must be frankly conceded that the reception accorded to Darwin's
doctrine of sexual selection, even among the biological public, was far
less unanimous, enthusiastic, and full than that which had been granted
to his more extensive theory of survival of the fittest. Many eminent
naturalists declined from the very outset to accept the conclusions thus
definitely set before them, and others who at first seemed disposed to
bow to the immense weight of Darwin's supreme authority gradually
withdrew their grudging assent from the new doctrine, as they found
their relapse backed up by others, and refused to believe that the
theory of courtship had been fairly proven before the final tribunal of
science. Several critics began by objecting that the whole theory was a
mere afterthought. Darwin, they said, finding that natural selection
did not suffice by itself to explain all the details of structure in
man, had invented sexual selection as a supplementary principle to help
it over the hard places. Those who wrote and spoke in this thoughtless
fashion could have had but a very inadequate idea of Darwin's close
experimental methods of enquiry. As a matter of fact, indeed, they were
entirely wrong; the doctrine of sexual selection itself, already faintly
foreshadowed by Erasmus Darwin in the 'Zoonomia,' had been distinctly
developed in the first edition of the 'Origin of Species' with at least
as much provisional elaboration as any other equally important factor in
the biological drama as set forth in that confessedly introductory work.
Nay, Haeckel had caught gladly at the luminous conception there
expressed, even before the appearance of the 'Descent of Man,' and had
worked it out in his 'Generelle Morphologie,' with great insight, to its
legitimate conclusions in many directions. Indeed, the sole reason why
so much space was devoted to the subject in Darwin's work on human
development was simply because there for the first time an opportunity
arose of utilising his vast store of collected information on this
single aspect of the evolutionary process. It was no afterthought, but a
necessary and inevitable component element of the fully-developed
evolutionary concept.

Still, it cannot be denied that naturalists generally did not accept
with effusion the new clause in the evolutionary creed. Many of them
hesitated; a few acquiesced; the majority more or less openly dissented.
But Darwin's belief remained firm as a rock. 'I am glad you defend
sexual selection,' he wrote a few years later in a private letter; 'I
have no fear about its ultimate fate, though it is now at a discount;'
and in the preface to the second edition of the 'Descent of Man,' he
remarks acutely, 'I have been struck with the likeness of many of the
half-favourable criticisms on sexual selection with those which appeared
at first on natural selection; such as that it would explain some few
details, but certainly was not applicable to the extent to which I have
employed it. My conviction of the power of sexual selection remains
unshaken.... When naturalists have become familiar with the idea, it
will, as I believe, be much more largely accepted; and it has already
been fully and favourably received by several capable judges.'

In spite of the still continued demurrer of not a few among the leading
evolutionists, it is probable, I think, that Darwin's prophecy on this
matter will yet be justified by the verdict of time. For the opposition
to the doctrine of sexual selection proceeds almost invariably, as it
seems to me, from those persons who still desire to erect an efficient
barrier of one sort or another between the human and animal worlds;
while on the contrary the theory in question is almost if not quite
universally accepted by just those rigorously evolutionary biologists
who are freest from preconceptions or special _a priori_ teleological
objections of any kind whatever. The half of the doctrine which deals
with the law of battle, indeed, can hardly be doubted by any competent
naturalist; the other half, which deals with the supposed aesthetic
preferences of the females, is, no doubt, distasteful to certain
thinkers because it seems to imply the existence in the lower animals of
a sense of beauty which many among us are not even now prepared
generously to admit. The desire to arrogate to mankind alone all the
higher faculties either of sense or intellect has probably much to do
with the current disinclination towards the Darwinian idea of sexual
selection. Thinkers who allow themselves to be emotionally swayed by
such extraneous considerations forget that the beautiful is merely that
which pleases; that beauty has no external objective existence; and that
the range of taste, both among ourselves and among animals at large, is
practically infinite. The greatest blow ever aimed at the Darwinian
theory of sexual selection was undoubtedly that dealt out by Mr. Alfred
Russel Wallace (et tu, Brute!) in his able and subtle article on the
Colours of Animals in 'Macmillan's Magazine,' since reprinted in his
delightful work on 'Tropical Nature.' Wallace there urges with his usual
acuteness, ingenuity, and skill several fundamental objections to the
Darwinian hypothesis of no little importance and weight. But it must
always be remembered (with all due respect to the joint discoverer of
natural selection) that Mr. Wallace himself, after publishing his own
admirable essay on the development of man, drew back aghast in the end
from the full consequences of his own admission, and uttered his partial
recantation in the singular words, 'Natural selection could only have
endowed the savage with a brain a little superior to that of an ape.' It
seems probable that in every case an analogous desire to erect a firm
barrier between man and brute by positing the faculty for perceiving
beauty as a special quasi-divine differentia of the human race has been
at the bottom of the still faintly surviving dislike amongst a section
of scientific men to sexual selection. Nevertheless, a candid and
impartial critic would be compelled frankly to admit that Darwin's
admirable theory of courtship has not on the whole proved so generally
acceptable to the biological world up to the present time as his greater
and far more comprehensive theory of survival of the fittest. It still
waits for its final recognition, towards which it is progressing more
rapidly and surely every day it lives.



The last eleven years of Darwin's life were spent in enforcing and
developing the principles already reached, and in enjoying the almost
unchequered progress of the revolution he had so unconsciously to
himself succeeded in inaugurating.

Only one year elapsed between the publication of the 'Descent of Man'
and that of its next important successor, the 'Expression of the
Emotions.' The occasion of this learned and bulky treatise in itself
stands as an immortal proof of the conscientious way in which Darwin
went to work to anticipate the slightest and most comparatively
impertinent possible objections to his main theories. Sir Charles Bell,
in one of the quaintly antiquated Bridgwater treatises--those marvellous
monuments of sadly misplaced teleological ingenuity--had maintained that
man was endowed with sundry small facial muscles solely for the sake of
expressing his emotions. This view was so obviously opposed to the
belief in the descent of man from some lower form, 'that,' says Darwin,
'it was necessary for me to consider it;' and so he did, in a lengthy
work, where the whole subject is exhaustively treated, and Bell's idea
is completely pulverised by the apt allegation of analogous expressions
in the animal world. In his old age Darwin grew, in fact, only the more
ceaselessly and wonderfully industrious. In 1875, after three years of
comparative silence, came the 'Insectivorous Plants,' a work full of
minute observation on the habits and manners of the sundew, the
butterwort, the Venus's fly-catcher, and the various heterogeneous
bog-haunting species known by the common name of pitcher plants. The
bare mass and weight of the facts which Darwin had collected for the
'Origin of Species' might well-nigh have stifled the very existence of
that marvellous book: it was lucky that the premature publication of
Wallace's paper compelled him to hurry on his 'brief abstract,' for if
he had waited to select and arrange the whole series of observations
that he finally published in his various later justificatory volumes, we
might have looked in vain for the great systematic and organising work,
which would no doubt have been 'surcharged with its own weight, and
strangled with its waste fertility.' But the task that he himself best
loved was to watch in minute detail the principles whose secret he had
penetrated, and whose reserve he had broken, working themselves out
before his very eyes, naked and not ashamed--to catch Actaeon-like the
undraped form of nature herself in the actual process of her inmost
being. He could patiently observe the red and slimy hair-glands of the
drosera closing slowly and remorselessly round the insect prey, and
sucking from their bodies with sensitive tentacles the protoplasmic
juices denied to its leaves by the poor and boggy soil, on which alone
its scanty rootlets can properly thrive. He could watch the butterwort
curving round the edges of its wan green foliage upon the captured limbs
of fly or aphis. He could note how the serried mass of finger-like
processes in the utricles of the bladderwort slowly absorb organic
matter from the larva of a gnat, or the minute water-insects entangled
within its living and almost animated lobster-pot. He could track the
long line of treacherous honey-glands by which the sarracenia entices
flies into the festering manure-wells of its sticky pitchers. The
minuteness and skill of all his observations on these lesser problems of
natural selection inevitably inspired faith among outsiders in the
cautious judgment of the observer and experimenter; and day by day
throughout his later years the evidence of the popular acceptance of his
doctrine, and of the dying away of the general ridicule with which it
was first received by the unlearned public, was very gratifying to the
great naturalist.

A year later, in 1876, came the 'Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation
in the Vegetable Kingdom.' So far as regarded the world of plants,
especially with respect to its higher divisions, this work was of
immense theoretical importance; and it also cast a wonderful side-light
upon the nature of that strange distinction of sex which occurs both in
the vegetable and animal kingdom, and in each is the concomitant--one
might almost say the necessary concomitant--of high development and
complex organisation. The great result attained by Darwin in his long
and toilsome series of experiments on this interesting subject was the
splendid proof of the law that cross-fertilisation produces finer and
healthier offspring, while continuous self-fertilisation tends in the
long run to degradation, degeneration, and final extinction.

Here as elsewhere, however, Darwin's principle does not spring
spontaneous, like Athene from the head of Zeus, a goddess full-formed,
uncaused, inexplicable: it arises gradually by a slow process of
development and modification from the previous investigations of earlier
biologists. At the close of the last century, in the terrible year of
upheaval 1793, a quiet German botanist, Christian Konrad Sprengel by
name, published at Berlin his long unheeded but intensely interesting
work on the 'Fertilisation of Flowers.' In the summer of 1789, while all
Europe was ablaze with the news that the Bastille had been stormed, and
a new era of humanity begun, the calm and peaceful Pomeranian observer
was noting in his own garden the curious fact that many flowers are
incapable of being fertilised without the assistance of flying insects,
which carry pollen from the stamens of one blossom to the sensitive
surface or ovary of the next. Hence he concluded that the secretion of
honey or nectar in flowers, the contrivances by which it is protected
from rain, the bright hues or lines of the corolla, and the sweet
perfume distilled by the blossoms, are all so many cunning devices of
nature to ensure fertilisation by the insect-visitors. Moreover,
Sprengel observed that many flowers are of one sex only, and that in
several others the sexes do not mature simultaneously; 'so that,' said
he, 'nature seems to intend that no flower shall be fertilised by means
of its own pollen.' Indeed, in some instances, as he showed by
experiments upon the yellow day lily, plants impregnated from their own
stamens cannot be made to set seed at all. 'So near,' says his able
successor, Hermann Mueller, 'was Sprengel to the distinct recognition of
the fact that self-fertilisation leads to worse results than
cross-fertilisation, and that all the arrangements which favour
insect-visits are of value to the plant itself, simply because the
insect-visitors effect cross-fertilisation!' As in most other
anticipatory cases, however, it must be here remarked that Sprengel's
idea was wholly teleological: he conceived of nature as animated by a
direct informing principle, which deliberately aimed at a particular
result; whereas Darwin rather came to the conclusion that
cross-fertilisation as a matter of fact does actually produce beneficial
results, and that therefore those plants which varied most in the
direction of arrangements for favouring insect-visits were likely to be
exceptionally fortunate in the struggle for existence against
competitors otherwise arranged. It is just the usual Darwinian
substitution of an efficient for a final cause.

Even before Sprengel, Koelreuter had recognised, in 1761, that
self-fertilisation was avoided in nature; and his observations and
experiments on intercrossing and on hybridism were largely relied upon
by Darwin himself, to whom they suggested at an early period many
fruitful lines of original investigation. In 1799, again, Andrew Knight,
following up the same line of thought in England as Sprengel in Germany,
declared as the result of his close experiments upon the garden pea,
that no plant ever fertilises itself for a perpetuity of generations.
But Knight's law, not being brought into causal connection with any
great fundamental principle of nature, was almost entirely overlooked by
the scientific world until the publication of Darwin's 'Origin of
Species,' half a century later. The same neglect also overtook
Sprengel's immensely interesting and curious work on fertilisation of
flowers. The world, in fact, was not yet ready for the separate
treatment of functional problems connected with the interrelations of
organic beings; so Knight and Sprengel were laid aside unnoticed on the
dusty top bookshelves of public libraries, while the dry classificatory
and systematic biology of the moment had it ail its own way for the time
being on the centre reading-tables. So many separate and independent
strands of thought does it ultimately require to make up the grand final
generalisation which the outer world attributes in its totality to the
one supreme organising intelligence.

But in the 'Origin of Species' itself Darwin reiterated and emphasised
Knight's law as a general and all-pervading principle of nature, placing
it at the same time on broader and surer biological foundations by
affiliating it intimately upon his own great illuminating and unifying
doctrine of natural selection. He also soon after rescued from oblivion
Sprengel's curious and fairy-like book, showing in full detail in his
work on orchids the wonderful contrivances by which flowers seek to
attract and to secure the assistance of insects for the impregnation of
their embryo seeds. In the 'Variation of Animals and Plants under
Domestication,' he further showed that breeding in-and-in diminishes the
strength and productiveness of the offspring; while crossing with
another stock produces, on the contrary, the best possible physical
results in both directions. And now at last, in the 'Effects of Cross
and Self fertilisation,' he proved by careful and frequently repeated
experiments that a constant infusion of fresh blood (so to speak) is
essential to the production of the healthiest offspring. In the words of
his own emphatic summing up, 'Nature abhors perpetual

The immediate result of these new statements and this fresh rationale of
Knight's law was to bring down Sprengel forthwith from the top shelf,
where he had languished ingloriously for seventy years, and to set a
whole school of ardent botanical observers working hard in the lines he
had laid down upon the mutual correlations of insects and flowers. A
vast literature sprang up at once upon this enchanting and
long-neglected subject, the most eminent workers in the rediscovered
field being Delpino in Italy, Hildebrand and Hermann Mueller in Germany,
Axel in Sweden, Lubbock in England, and Fritz Mueller in tropical South
America. Darwin found the question, in fact, almost taken out of his
hands before he had time himself to treat of it; for Hildebrand's chief
work was published as early as 1867, while Axel's appeared in 1869, both
of them several years earlier than Darwin's own final essay on the
subject in the 'Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation.' No statement,
perhaps, could more clearly mark the enormous impetus given to
researches in this direction than the fact that D'Arcy Thompson, in his
appendix to Mueller's splendid work on the 'Fertilisation of Flowers,'
has collected a list of no less than eight hundred and fourteen separate
works or important papers bearing on that special department of botany,
almost all of them subsequent in date to the first publication of the
'Origin of Species.' So widely did the Darwinian wave extend, and so
profoundly did it affect every minute point of biological and
psychological investigation.

Each of these later works of Darwin's consists, as a rule, of an
expansion of some single chapter or paragraph in the 'Origin of
Species;' or, to speak more correctly, of an arrangement of the
materials collected and the experiments designed for that particular
portion of the great projected encyclopaedia of evolutionism, of which
the 'Origin of Species' itself was but a brief anticipatory summary or
rough outline. Thus, the book on Orchids, published in 1862, is already
foreshadowed in a part of the chapter on the Difficulties of the Theory
of Natural Selection; the 'Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants'
(1865) is briefly summarised by anticipation in the long section on
Modes of Transition; the 'Variation of Animals and Plants under
Domestication' (1868) consists of the vast array of _pieces
justificatives_ for the first chapter of the 'Origin of Species;' and
the germ of the 'Cross and Self Fertilisation' (1876) is to be seen in
the passage 'On the Intercrossing of Individuals' in Chapter IV. of the
same work. It was well indeed that Darwin began by publishing the
shorter and more manageable abstract; the half, as the wise Greek
proverb shrewdly remarks, is often more than the whole; and a world that
eagerly devoured the first great deliverance of the Darwinian principle,
might have stood aghast had it been asked to swallow it piecemeal in
such gigantic treatises as those with which its author afterwards sought
thrice to vanquish all his foes and thrice to slay the slain.

Yet, with each fresh manifestation of Darwin's inexhaustible resources,
on the other hand, the opposition to his principles grew feebler and
feebler, and the universality of their acceptance more and more
pronounced, till at last, among biologists at least, not to be a
Darwinian was equivalent to being hopelessly left behind by the general
onward movement of the time. In 1874 Tyndall delivered his famous
address at the Belfast meeting of the British Association; and in 1877,
from the same presidential chair at Plymouth, Allen Thomson, long
reputed a doubtful waverer, enforced his cordial adhesion to the
Darwinian principles by his inaugural discourse on 'The Development of
the Forms of Animal Life.' A new generation of active workers, trained
up from the first in the evolutionary school, like Romanes, Ray
Lankester, Thistleton Dyer, Balfour, Sully, and Moggridge, had now risen
gradually around the great master; and in every direction he could see
the seed he had himself planted being watered and nourished in fresh
soil by a hundred ardent and enthusiastic young disciples. Even in
France, ever irresponsive to the touch of new ideas of alien origin,
Colonel Moulinie's admirable and sympathetic translations were beginning
to win over to the evolutionary creed many rising workers; while in
Germany, Victor Carus's excellent versions had from the very first
brought in the enthusiastic Teutonic biologists with a congenial
'swarmery' to the camp of the Darwinians. Correspondents from every part
of the world kept pressing fresh facts and fresh applications upon the
founder of the faith; and Darwin saw his own work so fast being taken
out of his hands by specialist disciples that he abandoned entirely his
original intention of publishing in detail the basis of his first book,
and contented himself instead with tracing out minutely some minor
portions of his contemplated task as specimens of evolutionary method.

In 1877, in pursuance of this changed purpose, Darwin published his book
on 'Forms of Flowers,' in which he dealt closely with the old problem of
differently shaped blossoms on plants of the same species. It had long
been known, to take a single example, that primroses existed in two
forms, the pin-eyed and the thrum-eyed, of which the former has the
pin-like summit of the pistil at the top of the tube, and the stamens
concealed half way down its throat; while in the latter these relative
positions are exactly reversed, the stamens answering in place to the
pistil of the alternative form with geometrical accuracy. As early as
1862 Darwin had shown, in the 'Journal of the Linnean Society,' that
this curious arrangement owed its development to the greater security
which it afforded for cross-fertilisation, because in this way each
flower had to be impregnated with the pollen, from a totally distinct
blossom, growing on a different individual plant. In a series of
successive papers read before the same Society in the years between 1863
and 1868, he had extended a similar course of explanation to the
multiform flowers of the flaxes, the loosestrifes, the featherfoil, the
auricula, the buckbean, and several other well-known plants. At last, in
1877, he gathered together into one of the now familiar green-covered
volumes the whole of his observations on this strange peculiarity, and
proved by abundant illustration and experiment that the diversity of
form is always due through natural selection to the advantage gained by
perfect security of cross-fertilisation, resulting as it invariably does
in the production of the finest, strongest, and most successful
seedlings. Any variation, however peculiar, which helps to ensure this
constant infusion of fresh blood is certain to be favoured in the
struggle for life, owing to the superior vitality of the stock it
begets. But it is worthy of notice, as showing the extreme minuteness
and exhaustiveness of Darwin's method on the small scale, side by side
with his extraordinary and unusual power of rising to the very highest
and grandest generalisations, that the volume which he devoted to the
elucidation of this minor factor in the question of hereditary
advantages runs to nearly as many pages as the last edition of the
'Origin of Species' itself. So great was the wealth of observation and
experiment which he could lavish upon the solution of a single, small,
incidental problem.

Even fuller in minute original research was the work which Darwin
published in 1880, on 'The Power of Movement in Plants,' detailing the
result of innumerable observations on the seemingly irresponsible yet
almost purposive rotations of the growing rootlets and young stems of
peas and climbers. Anyone who wishes to see on what a wide foundation of
irrefragable fact the great biologist built up the stately fabric of his
vast theories cannot do better than turn for instruction to this
remarkable volume, which the old naturalist gave to the world some time
after passing the allotted span of threescore years and ten.

It was in the same year (1880) that Huxley delivered at the Royal
Institution his famous address on the Coming of Age of the 'Origin of
Species.' The time was a favourable one for reviewing the silent and
almost unobserved progress of a great revolution. Twenty-one years had
come and gone since the father of modern scientific evolutionism had
launched upon the world his tentative work. In those twenty-one years
the thought of humanity had been twisted around as upon some invisible
pivot, and a new heaven and a new earth had been presented to the eyes
of seers and thinkers. One-and-twenty years before, despite the
influence of Hutton and of Lyell, the dominant view of the earth's past
history revealed but one vast and lawless succession of hideous
catastrophes. Wholesale creations and wholesale extinctions, world-wide
cataclysms followed by fresh world-wide births of interwoven faunas and
floras--these, said Huxley, were the ordinary machinery of the
geological epic brought into fashion by the misapplied genius of the
mighty Cuvier. One-and-twenty years after, the opponents themselves had
given up the game in its fullest form as lost beyond the hope of
possible restitution. Some hesitating thinkers, it is true, while
accepting the evolutionary doctrine more or less in its earlier form,
like Mivart and Meehan, yet refused their assent on one ground or
another to the specific Darwinian doctrine of natural selection. Others,
like Wallace, made a special exception with regard to the development of
the human species, which they supposed to be due to other causes from
those implied in the remainder of the organic scale. Yet on the whole,
biological science had fairly carried the day in favour of evolution, in
one form or another, and not even the cavillers dared now to suggest
that whole systems of creation had been swept away _en bloc_, and remade
again in different forms for a succeeding epoch, in accordance with the
belief which was almost universal among geologists up to the exact
moment of the publication of Darwin's masterpiece.

During the twenty-one years, too, as Huxley likewise pointed out, an
immense number of new facts had come to strengthen the hands of the
evolutionists at the very point where they had before felt themselves
most openly vulnerable. Palaeontology had supplied many of those missing
links in the organic chain whose absence from the interrupted and
imperfect geological record had been loudly alleged against the
Darwinian hypothesis in the earlier days of struggle and hesitation. Two
years after the publication of the 'Origin of Species,' the discovery of
a winged and feathered creature, happily preserved for us in the
Solenhofen slates, with lizard-like head and teeth and tail, and
bird-like pinions, feet, and breast, had bridged over in part the great
gap that yawns between the existing birds and reptiles. A few years
later, new fossil reptilian forms, erect on their hind legs like
kangaroos, and with very singular peculiarities of bony structure, had
helped still further to show the nature of the modifications by which
the scale-bearing quadruped type passed slowly into that of the
feather-bearing biped. In 1875, again, Professor Marsh's discovery of
the toothed birds in the American cretaceous strata completed the
illustrative series of transitional forms over what had once been the
most remarkable existing break in the continuity of organic development.
Similarly, Hofmeister's investigations in the vegetable world brought
close together the flowering and flowerless plants, by indicating that
the ferns and the horsetails were connected in curious unforeseen ways,
through the pill-worts and club-mosses, with the earliest and simplest
of forest trees, the firs and the puzzle-monkeys. In minor matters like
progress was continually reported on every side. Gaudry found among the
fossils of Attica the successive stages by which the ancient and
undeveloped civets passed into the more modern and specialised tribe of
the hyaenas; Marsh traced out in Western America the ancestry of the
horse from a five-toed creature no bigger than a fox, through
intermediate four-toed and three-toed forms, to the existing single
solid-hoofed type with its digits reduced to the minimum of unity; and
Filhol unearthed among the phosphorites of Quercy the common progenitor
of the most distinct among the recent carnivores, the cats and the dogs,
the plantigrade bears and the digitigrade pumas. 'So far as the animal
world is concerned,' Professor Huxley said in conclusion, reviewing
these additions to the evidence upon that memorable occasion, 'evolution
is no longer a speculation but a statement of historical fact.' Of
Darwin himself he remarked truly, 'He has lived long enough to outlast
detraction and opposition, and to see the stone that the builders
rejected become the head-stone of the corner.'

It was in 1881 that Darwin published his last volume, 'The Formation of
Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.' In this singularly
fascinating and interesting monograph he took in hand one of the
lowliest and humblest of living forms, the common earthworm, and by an
exhaustive study of its habits and manners strove to show how the
entire existence of vegetable mould--the ordinary covering of fertile
soil upon the face of the earth--is due to the long but unobtrusive
action of these little-noticed and ever-active architects. By the acids
which they evolve, they appear to aid largely in the disintegration of
the stone beneath the surface; by their constant practice of eating
fallen leaves, which they drag down with them into their subterranean
burrows, they produce the fine castings of soft earth, so familiar to
everybody, and thus reinstate the coating of humus above the bare rock
as often as it is washed away again in the course of ordinary denudation
by the rain and the torrents. It is true that subsequent investigation
has shown the possibility of vegetable mould existing under certain
conditions without the intervention of worms to any marked extent; but,
as a whole, there can be little doubt that over most parts of the world
the presence of soil, and therefore of the vegetable growth rooted in
it, is entirely due to the unsuspected yet ceaseless activity of these
humble creatures.

The germ of the earthworm theory appears to me to have been first
suggested to Darwin's mind by a passage in a work where one would little
have suspected it--White's 'Natural History of Selborne.' 'Earthworms,'
says the idyllic Hampshire naturalist, 'though in appearance a small and
despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would make a
lamentable chasm. For to say nothing of half the birds, and some
quadrupeds, which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to
be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely
without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and
rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, by drawing
straws and stalks of leaves into it; and, most of all, by throwing up
such infinite numbers of lumps of earth, called worm-casts, which, being
their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass. Worms probably
provide new soils for hills and slopes where the rain washes the earth
away; and they affect slopes, probably, to avoid being flooded.
Gardeners and farmers express their detestation of worms; the former,
because they render their walks unsightly, and make them much work; and
the latter, because, as they think, worms eat their green corn. But
these men would find, that the earth without worms would soon become
cold, hard-bound, and void of fermentation; and, consequently, sterile.'

If Darwin ever read this interesting passage, which he almost certainly
must at some time have done, it would appear that he had overlooked it
in later life; for he, who was habitually so candid and careful in the
acknowledgment of all his obligations, however great or however small,
does not make any mention of it at all in his 'Vegetable Mould,' though
he alludes incidentally to some other observations of Gilbert White's on
the minor habits and manners of earthworms. But whether Darwin was
originally indebted to White or not for the foundation of his theory on
the subject of mould, the important point to notice is really this, that
what with the observant parson of Selborne was but a casual glimpse, the
mere passing suggestion of a fruitful idea, became with Darwin, in his
wider fashion, a carefully elaborated and powerfully buttressed theory,
supported by long and patient investigation, ample experiment, and vast
collections of minute facts. The difference is strikingly characteristic
of the strong point of Darwin's genius. While he had all the breadth and
universality of the profoundest thinkers, he had also all the marvellous
and inexhaustible patience of the most precise and special microscopical

For years, indeed, Darwin studied the ways and instincts of the common
earthworm with the same close and accurate observation which he gave to
every other abstruse subject that engaged in any way his acute
intellect. The lawyer's maxim, 'De minimis lex non curat,' he used to
say, never truly applies to science. As early as the year 1837 he read a
paper, before the Geological Society of London, 'On the Formation of
Mould,' in which he developed with some fulness the mother idea of his
complete theory on the earthworm question. He there showed that layers
of cinders, marl, or ashes, which had been strewn thickly over the
surface of meadows, were found a few years after at a depth of some
inches beneath the turf, yet still forming in spite of their burial a
regular and fairly horizontal stratum. This apparent sinking of the
stones, he believed, was due to the quantity of fine earth brought up to
the surface by worms in the form of castings. It was objected to his
theory at the time that the work supposed to be accomplished by the
worms was out of all reasonable proportion to the size and numbers of
the alleged actors. Here Darwin's foot was on his native heath; he felt
himself immediately on solid ground again. The cumulative importance of
separately infinitesimal elements is indeed the very keynote and special
peculiarity of the great biologist's method of thinking. He had found
out in very truth that many a little makes a mickle, that the infinitely
small, infinitely repeated, may become in process of infinite years
infinitely important. So he set himself to work, with characteristic
contempt of time, to weigh and measure worms and worm-castings.

He began by keeping tame earthworms in flower-pots in his own house,
counting the number of worms and burrows in certain measured spaces of
pasture or garden, and starting his long and slow experiment in his
field at Down already alluded to. He tried issues on their senses, on
their instincts, on their emotions, on their intelligence; he watched
them darting wildly like rabbits into their holes when alarmed from
without, overcoming engineering difficulties in dragging down
oddly-shaped or unfamiliar leaves, and protecting the open mouths of
their tunnels from intruders with a little defensive military glacis of
rounded pebbles. He found that more than 53,000 worms on an average
inhabit every acre of garden land, and that a single casting sometimes
weighs as much as three ounces avoirdupois. Ten tons of soil per acre
pass annually through their bodies, and mould is thrown up by them at an
average rate of 22 inches in a century. Careful observations on the
stones of Stonehenge; on the tiled floors of buried buildings; on Roman
ruins at Silchester and Wroxeter, and on his own meadows and pastures at
Down, finally enabled the cautious experimenter to prove conclusively
the truth of his thesis, and to present to the world the despised
earthworm in a new character, as the friend of man and of agriculture,
the producer and maintainer of the vegetable mould on our hills or
valleys, and the prime cause of the very existence of that cloak of
greensward that clothes our lawns, our fields, and our pleasure-grounds.

It was his last work. Persistent ill-health and equally persistent study
for seventy-three years had broken down a constitution never really
strong, and consumed from within by the ceaseless fires of its own
overpowering and undying energy. On Tuesday, April the 18th, 1882, he
was seized at midnight by violent pains, and at four o'clock on
Wednesday afternoon he died suddenly in his son's arms, after a very
short but painful illness. So retired was the family life at Down that
the news of the great biologist's death was not actually known in London
itself till two days after he had breathed his last.

The universal regret and grief expressed at the loss in all civilised
countries was the best measure of the immense change of front which had
slowly come over the whole educated community, in the twenty-three years
since the first publication of the 'Origin of Species.' No sooner was
Darwin's death announced than all lands and all classes vied with one
another in their eagerness to honour the name and memory of the great
biologist. Indeed, the spontaneous and immediate nature of the outburst
of regret and affectionate regard which followed hard upon the news of
Darwin's death, astonished even those who had watched closely the
extraordinary revolution the man himself had brought so well to its
final consummation. In England, it was felt instinctively on every side
that the great naturalist's proper place was in the aisles of
Westminster, hard by the tomb of Newton, his immortal predecessor. To
this universal and deep-seated feeling Darwin's family regretfully
sacrificed their own natural preference for a quiet interment in the
graveyard at Down. On the Wednesday morning next after his death,
Charles Darwin's remains were borne with unwonted marks, of respect and
ceremony, in the assembled presence of all that was noble and good in
Britain, to an honoured grave in the precincts of the great Abbey.
Wallace and Huxley, Lubbock and Hooker, his nearest peers in the domain
of pure science, stood among the bearers who held the pall. Lowell
represented the republics of America and of letters. Statesmen, and
poets, and philosophers, and theologians mingled with the throng of
scientific thinkers who crowded close around the venerated bier. No
incident of fitting pomp or dignity was wanting as the organ pealed out
in solemn strains the special anthem composed for the occasion, to the
appropriate words of the Hebrew poet, 'Happy is the man that findeth
wisdom.' Even the narrow Philistine intelligence itself, which still
knew Darwin only as the man who thought we were all descended from
monkeys, was impressed with the sole standard of greatness open to its
feeble and shallow comprehension by the mere solemnity and ceremony of
the occasion, and began to enquire with blind wonderment what this
thinker had done whom a whole people thus delighted to honour.

Of Darwin's pure and exalted moral nature no Englishman of the present
generation can trust himself to speak with becoming moderation. His love
of truth, his singleness of heart, his sincerity, his earnestness, his
modesty, his candour, his absolute sinking of self and
selfishness--these, indeed, are all conspicuous to every reader, on the
very face of every word he ever printed. Like his works themselves, they
must long outlive him. But his sympathetic kindliness, his ready
generosity, the staunchness of his friendship, the width and depth and
breadth of his affections, the manner in which 'he bore with those who
blamed him unjustly without blaming them in return,' these things can
never so well be known to any other generation of men as to the three
generations who walked the world with him. Many even of those who did
not know him loved him like a father; to many who never saw his face,
the hope of winning Charles Darwin's approbation and regard was the
highest incentive to thought and action. Towards younger men,
especially, his unremitting kindness was always most noteworthy: he
spoke and wrote to them, not like one of the masters in Israel, but like
a fellow-worker and seeker after truth, interested in their interests,
pleased at their successes, sympathetic with their failures, gentle to
their mistakes. Not that he ever spared rightful criticism; on the
contrary, the love of truth was with him so overpowering and enthralling
a motive that he pointed out what seemed to him errors or misconceptions
in the work of others with perfect frankness, fully expecting them to be
as pleased and delighted at a suggested amendment of their faulty
writing as he himself was in his own case. But his praise was as
generous as his criticism was frank; and, amid all the toil of his
laborious life in his study at Down, he could always find time to read
and comment at full length upon whatever fresh contributions to his own
subjects the merest tyro might venture to submit for his consideration.
He had the sympathetic receptivity of all truly great minds, and when
he died, thousands upon thousands who had never beheld his serene
features and his fatherly eyes felt they had lost indeed a personal

Greatness is not always joined with gentleness: in Charles Darwin's
case, by universal consent of all who knew him, 'an intellect which had
no superior' was wedded to 'a character even nobler than the



To most people Darwinism and evolution mean one and the same thing.
After what has here been said, however, with regard to the pre-Darwinian
evolutionary movement, and the distinction between the doctrines of
descent with modification and of natural selection, it need hardly be
added that the two are quite separate and separable in thought, even
within the limits of the purely restricted biological order. Darwinism
is only a part of organic evolution; the theory, as a whole, owes much
to Darwin, but it does not owe everything to him alone. There were
biological evolutionists before ever he published the 'Origin of
Species;' there are biological evolutionists even now who refuse to
accept the truth of his great discovery, and who cling firmly to the
primitive faith set forth in earlier and cruder shapes by Erasmus
Darwin, by Lamarck, or by Robert Chambers.

Much more, then, must Darwinism and the entire theory of organic
development to which it belongs be carefully discriminated, as a part or
factor, from evolution at large, as a universal and all-embracing
cosmical system. That system itself has gradually emerged as a slow
growth of the past two centuries, a progressive development of the
collective scientific and philosophical mind of humanity, not due in its
totality to any one single commanding thinker, but summing itself up at
last in our own time more fully in the person and teaching of Mr.
Herbert Spencer than of any other solitary mouthpiece. Indeed,
intimately as we all now associate the name of Darwin with the word
'evolution,' that term itself (whose vogue is almost entirely due to Mr.
Spencer's influence) was one but rarely found upon Darwin's own lips,
and but rarely written by his own pen. He speaks rather of development
and of natural selection than of evolution: his own concern was more
with its special aspect as biological modification than with its general
aspect as cosmical unfolding. Let us ask, then, from this wider
standpoint of a great and far-reaching mental revolution, what was
Charles Darwin's exact niche in the evolutionary movement of the two
last centuries?

Evolutionism, as now commonly understood, may be fairly regarded as a
mode of envisaging to ourselves the history of the universe, a tendency
or frame of mind, a temperament, one might almost say, or habit of
thought rather than a definite creed or body of dogmas. The evolutionist
looks out upon the cosmos as a continuous process unfolding itself in
regular order in obedience to definite natural laws. He sees in it all,
not a warring chaos restrained by the constant interference from without
of a wise and beneficent external power, but a vast aggregate of
original elements, perpetually working out their own fresh
redistribution, in accordance with their own inherent energies. He
regards the cosmos as an almost infinite collection of material atoms,
animated by an almost infinite sum-total of energy, potential or

In the very beginning, so far as the mental vision of the astronomer can
dimly pierce with hypothetical glance the abyss of ages, the matter
which now composes the material universe seems to have existed in a
highly diffuse and nebulous condition. The gravitative force, however,
with which every atom of the whole vast mass was primarily endowed,
caused it gradually to aggregate around certain fixed and definite
centres, which became in time the rallying-points or nuclei of future
suns. The primitive potential energy of separation in the atoms of the
mass was changed into actual energy of motion as they drew closer and
closer together about the common centre, and into molecular energy or
heat as they clashed with one another in bodily impact around the
hardening core. Thus arose stars and suns, composed of fiery atomic
clouds in a constant state of progressive concentration, ever
gathering-in the hem of their outer robes on the surface of the solid
globe within, and ever radiating off their store of associated energy to
the impalpable and hypothetical surrounding ether. This, in necessarily
brief and shadowy abstract, is the nebular theory of Kant and Laplace,
as amended and supplemented by the modern doctrine of the correlation
and conservation of energies.

Applied to the solar system, of which our own planet forms a component
member, the evolutionary doctrine (in its elder shape) teaches us to
envisage that minor group as the final result of a single great diffuse
nebula, which once spread its faint and cloud-like mass with
inconceivable tenuity, at least as far from its centre, now occupied by
the sun's body, as the furthest point in the orbit of Neptune, the
outermost of the yet known planets. From this remote and immense
periphery it has gradually gathered itself in, growing denser and denser
all the time, towards its common core, and has left behind, at irregular
intervals, concentric rings or belts of nebulous matter, which, after
rupturing at their weakest point, have hardened and concentrated round
their own centre of gravity into Jupiter, Saturn, the Earth, or Venus.
The main central body of all, retreating ever within as it dropped in
its course the raw material of the planetary masses, has formed, at
last, the sun, the great ruler and luminary of our system. Much as this
primitive evolutionary concept of the development and history of the
solar system has been modified and altered of late years by recent
researches into the nature of comets and meteors and of the sun's
surface, it still remains for all practical purposes of popular
exposition the best and simplest mental picture of the general type of
astronomical evolution. For the essential point which it impresses upon
the mind is the idea of the planets in their several orbits and with
their attendant satellites as due, not to external design and special
creation, in the exact order in which we now see them, but to the slow
and regular working out of preordained physical laws, in accordance with
which they have each naturally assumed, by pure force of circumstances,
their existing size, and weight, and orbit, and position.

Geology has applied a similar conception to the origin and becoming of
the earth's material and external features as we now know them.
Accepting from astronomy the notion of our planet's primary condition as
a cooling sphere of incandescent matter, it goes on to show how the two
great envelopes, atmospheric and oceanic, gaseous and liquid, have
gradually formed around its solid core; how the hard crust of the
central mass has been wrinkled and corrugated into mountain chain and
deep-cut valley, uplifted here into elevated table-land or there
depressed into hollow ocean bed; how sediment has slowly gathered on the
floor of the sea, and how volcanic energies or lateral pressure have
subsequently forced up the resulting deposits into Alpine peaks and
massive continents. In this direction, it was Lyell who principally
introduced into science the uniformitarian or evolutionary principle,
who substituted for the frequent cataclysms and fresh beginnings of the
earlier geologists the grand conception of continuous action, producing
from comparatively infinitesimal but cumulative causes effects which at
last attain by accretion the most colossal proportions.

Here biology next steps in, with its splendid explanation of organic
life, as due essentially to the secondary action of radiated solar
energy on the outer crust of such a cooling and evolving planet. Falling
on the cells of the simplest green plants, the potent sunlight
dissociates the carbon from the oxygen in the carbonic acid floating in
the atmosphere, and builds it up with the hydrogen of water in the
tissues of the organism into starches and other organic products, which
differ from the inert substances around them, mainly by the possession
of locked-up solar energy. On the energy-yielding food-stuffs thus
stored up the animal in turn feeds and battens, reducing what was before
potential into actual motion, just as the steam-engine reduces the
latent solar energy of coal into visible heat and visible movement in
its furnace and its machinery. How the first organism came to exist
biology has not yet been able fully to explain for us; but aided by
chemical science it has been able to show us in part how some of the
simpler organic bodies may have been originally built up, and it does
not despair of showing us in the end how the earliest organism may
actually have been produced from the prime elements of oxygen, hydrogen,
nitrogen, and carbon. Into this most fundamental of biological problems,
however, Darwin himself, with his constitutional caution and dread of
speculative theorising, was not careful or curious to enter. Even upon
the far less abstruse and hypothetical question, whether all life took
its prime origin from a single starting-point or from several distinct
and separate tribal ancestors, he hardly cared so much as to hazard a
passing speculation. With splendid self-restraint he confined his
attention almost entirely to the more manageable and practical problem
of the origin of species by natural selection, which lay then and there
open for solution before him. Taking for granted the existence of the
original organism or group of organisms, the fact of reproduction, and
the tendency of such reproduction to beget increase in a geometrical
ratio, he deduced from these elementary given factors the necessary
corollary of survival of the fittest, with all its marvellous and
far-reaching implications of adaptation to the environment and specific
distinctions. By doing so, he rendered conceivable the mechanism of
evolution in the organic world, thus bringing another great aspect of
external nature within the range of the developmental as opposed to the
miraculous philosophy of the cosmos.

Psychology, once more, in the hands of Herbert Spencer and his
followers, not wholly unaided by Darwin himself, has extended the
self-same evolutionary treatment to the involved and elusive phenomena
of mind, and has shown how from the simplest unorganised elements of
feeling, the various mental powers and faculties as we now know them,
both on the intellectual and on the emotional side, have been slowly
built up in the long and ever-varying interaction between the sentient
organism and the natural environment. It has traced the first faint
inception of a nervous system as a mere customary channel of
communication between part and part; the gradual growth of fibre and
ganglion; the vague beginnings of external sense-organ and internal
brain; the final perfection of eye and ear, of sight and hearing, of
pleasure and pain, of intellect and volition. It has thus done for the
subjective or mental half of our complex nature what biology, as
conceived by Darwin, has done for the physical or purely organic half;
it has traced the origin and development of mind, without a single
break, from its first faint and half-unconscious manifestation in the
polyp or the jelly-fish to its final grand and varied outcome in the
soul of the poet or the intellect of the philosopher.

Finally, sociology has applied the evolutionary method to the origin and
rise of human societies, with their languages, customs, arts, and
institutions, their governmental organisation and their ecclesiastical
polity. Taking from biology the evolving savage, viewed as a developed
and highly gifted product of the anthropoid stock, it has shown by what
stages and through what causes he has slowly aggregated into tribes and
nations; has built up his communal, polygamic, or monogamic family; has
learnt the use of fire, of implements, of pottery, of metals; has
developed the whole resources of oral speech and significant gesture;
has invented writing, pictorial or alphabetic; has grown up to science,
to philosophy, to morals, and to religion. The chief honours of this
particular line of enquiry, the latest and youngest of all to receive
the impact of the evolutionary impulse, belong mainly to Tylor, Lubbock,
and Spencer in England, and to Haeckel, De Mortillet, and Wagner on the

In the sublime conception of the external universe and its present
workings which we thus owe to the independent efforts of so many great
progressive thinkers, and which has here been briefly and inadequately
sketched out, Darwin's work in life falls naturally into its own place
as the principal contribution to the evolutionary movement in the
special biological department of thought. Within the more limited range
of that department itself, the evolutionary impulse did not owe its
origin to Charles Darwin personally; it took its rise with Erasmus
Darwin, Buffon, and Lamarck, and it derived from our great modern
English naturalist its final explanation and definitive proof alone. But
just as the evolutionary movement in astronomy and cosmical thought is
rightly associated in all our minds with the mighty theories of Kant,
Laplace, and Herschel; just as the evolutionary movement in geology is
rightly associated with the far lesser yet brilliant and effective
personality of Lyell; just as the evolutionary movement in the
derivative sciences is rightly associated with so many great still
living thinkers; so the evolutionary movement in biology in particular
rightly sums itself up in the honoured name of Charles Darwin. For what
others suspected, he was the first to prove; where others speculated, he
was the first to observe, to experiment, to demonstrate, and to

It should be noted, too, that while to us who come after, the great
complex evolutionary movement of the two last centuries justly reveals
itself as one and indivisible, a single grand cosmical drama, having
many acts and many scenes, but all alike inspired by one informing and
pervading unity, yet to those whose half unconscious co-operation slowly
built it up by episodes, piecemeal, each act and each scene unrolled
itself separately as an end in itself, to be then and there attained and
proved, quite apart from the conception of its analytic value as a part
in a great harmonious natural poem of the constitution of things. Though
evolution appears to us now as a single grand continuous process, a
phase of the universe dependent upon a preponderating aggregation of
matter and dissipation of energy, yet to Kant and Laplace it was the
astronomical aspect alone that proved attractive, to Darwin it was the
biological aspect alone, and to many of the modern workers in the minor
fields it is the human and sociological aspect that almost monopolises
the whole wide mental horizon. No greater proof can be given of the
subjective distinctness of parts in what was objectively and
fundamentally a single broad psychological revolution of the human mind,
than the fact that Lyell himself, who more than any one man had
introduced the evolutionary conception into the treatment of geology,
should have stood out so long and fought so blindly against the
evolutionary conception in the organic world. Indeed, it was not until
the various scattered and many-coloured strands of evolutionary thought
had been gathered together and woven into one by the vast catholic and
synthetic intelligence of Herbert Spencer that the idea of evolution as
a whole, as a single continuous cosmical process, began to be
apprehended and gradually assimilated by the picked intelligences of the
several distinct scientific departments.

Observe also that the evolutionary method has invaded each of the
concrete sciences in the exact order of their natural place in the
hierarchy of knowledge. It had been applied to astronomy by Kant and
Laplace before it was applied to geology by Lyell; it had been applied
to geology by Lyell before it was applied to biology by Darwin; it had
been applied to biology (in part, at least) by Lamarck and the Darwins
before it was applied to psychology by Spencer; and it is only at the
very end of all that it has been applied to sociology and the allied
branches of thought by a hundred different earnest workers in
contemporary Europe. Each stage helped on the next; each was dependent
only on those that went naturally before it, and aided in turn the
subsequent development of those that naturally came after it.

Nevertheless, the popular instinct which regards Darwinism and evolution
as practically synonymous is to a large extent justified by the actual
facts of the psychological upheaval. Darwin's work forms on the whole
the central keystone of the evolutionary system, and deserves the honour
which has been thrust upon it of supporting by its own mass the entire
superstructure of the development theory.

For, in the first place, Darwin had to deal with the science of life,
the science where the opposition to evolutionism was sure to be
strongest, and where the forces and tendencies in favour of obscurantism
were sure to gather in fullest force. Every other great onward step in
our knowledge of our own relation to the universe of which we form a
part had been compelled indeed to run the gauntlet, in its own time, of
ecclesiastical censure and of popular dislike. Those inveterate
prejudices of human ignorance which sedulously hide their genuine shape
under the guise of dogma masquerading as religion, had long since
brought to bear their baneful resources upon the discoveries of
Copernicus and the theories of Galileo, as blind, misleading, and
diabolical lights, opposed to the sure and certain warranty of Holy
Scripture. Newton, again, had in due time been blamed in that he boldly
substituted (as his critics declared) the bald and barren formula of
gravitation for the personal superintendence of a divine Providence.
Laplace had been accused of dethroning the deity from the centre and
governance of his celestial system. Around the early geologists the
battle of the six days of creation had raged fiercely for nearly half a
century. But all these varying modes of thought, though deemed heretical
enough in their own day, had touched, as it were, but the minor
ramparts and unimportant out-works of the great obscurantist dogmatic
strongholds: Darwinism, by openly attacking the inmost problems of life
and mind, had brought to bear its powerful artillery upon the very keep
and highest tower of the fortress itself. The belief that the various
stars, planets, and satellites had or had not been wisely created in
their existing positions, and with their present orbits, movements, and
relations accurately fore-measured, did not fundamentally affect, for
good or evil, the cherished dogmas of the ordinary multitude. But the
analogous belief in the distinct and separate creation of plants and
animals, and more especially of the human species, was far more closely
and intimately bound up with all the current religious conceptions. It
was at first supposed, not perhaps without some practical wisdom, that
to upset the primitive faith in the separate creation of living beings
was to loosen and imperil the very foundations of common morality and
revealed religion. The 'argument from design' had been immemorially
regarded as the principal buttress of orthodox thought. Theologians had
unwisely staked their all upon the teleological dogma, and could ill
afford to retire without a blow from that tenaciously defended bastion
of their main position. Hence the evolutionary concept had its hardest
fight to wage over the biological field; and when that field was once
fairly won, it had little more to fear from banded preconceptions and
established prejudices in any other portion of the wide territory it
claimed for its own.

In the second place, biological evolution, firmly established by Darwin
on a safe, certain, and unimpeachable basis, led naturally and almost
inevitably to all the other innumerable applications of the
evolutionary method, in the domains of psychology, sociology, philology,
political thought, and ethical science. Hence the immediate and visible
results of its promulgation have been far more striking, noticeable, and
evident than those which followed the establishment of the evolutionary
conception in the astronomical and geological departments. It was
possible to accept cosmical evolution and solar evolution and planetary
evolution, without at the same time accepting evolution in the
restricted field of life and mind. But it was impossible to accept
evolution in biology without at the same time extending its application
to psychology, to the social organism, to language, to ethics, to all
the thousand and one varied interests of human life and human
development. Now, most people are little moved by speculations and
hypotheses as to the origin of the milky way or the belt of Orion; they
care very slightly for Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings; they are
stolidly incurious as to the development of the earth's crust, or the
precise date of the cretaceous epoch; but they understand and begin to
be touched the moment you come to the practical questions of man's
origin, nature, and history. Darwinism compelled their attention by its
immediate connection with their own race; and the proof of this truth is
amply shown by the mere fact that out of all the immense variety of
Charles Darwin's theories and ideas, the solitary one which alone has
succeeded in attaching to itself the public interest and public ridicule
is the theory of man's ultimate descent from a monkey-like ancestor.
Popular instinct, here as elsewhere profoundly true at core in the midst
of all its superficial foolishness, has rightly hit upon the central
element in the Darwinian conception which more than any other has caused
its fruitful and wonderful expansion through every fertile field of
human enquiry.

In short, it was Darwin's task in life to draw down evolution from
heaven to earth, and to bring within the scope of its luminous method
all that is most interesting to the uninstructed and unsophisticated
heart of the natural man.

The application of the evolutionary principle to the world of life,
human or animal, thus presents itself as the chief philosophic and
scientific achievement of the nineteenth century. Throughout the whole
middle decades of the present age, the human mind in all its highest
embodiments was eagerly searching, groping, and enquiring after a
naturalistic explanation of the origin and progress of organic life. In
the vast scheme for the System of Synthetic Philosophy which Herbert
Spencer set forth as an anticipatory synopsis of his projected work, the
philosopher of development leapt at once from the First Principles of
evolution as a whole to the Principles of Biology, Psychology, and
Sociology, omitting all reference to the application of evolution to the
vast field of inorganic nature; and he did so on the distinctly stated
ground that its application to organic nature was then and there more
important and interesting. That suggestive expression of belief aptly
sums up the general attitude of scientific and philosophic minds at the
precise moment of the advent of Darwinism. Kant and Laplace and Lyell
had already applied the evolutionary method to suns and systems, to
planets and continents; what was needed next was that some deeply
learned and universally equipped biological leader should help the lame
evolutionism of Lamarck over the organic stile, and leave it free to
roam the boundless fields of what Mr. Spencer has sometimes well
described as the super-organic sciences. For that office, Darwin at the
exact moment presented himself; and his victory and its results rightly
entitle him to the popular regard as the founder of all that most men
mean when they speak together in everyday conversation of the doctrine
of evolution.

On the other hand, the total esoteric philosophic conception of
evolution as a cosmical process, one and continuous from nebula to man,
from star to soul, from atom to society, we owe rather to the other
great prophet of the evolutionary creed, Herbert Spencer, whose name
will ever be equally remembered side by side with his mighty peer's, in
a place of high collateral glory. It is he who has given us the general
definition of evolution as a progress from an indefinite, incoherent
homogeneity to a definite coherent heterogeneity, accompanying an
integration of matter and dissipation of motion, or, as we should now
perhaps more correctly say, of energy. In the establishment of the
various lines of thought which merge at last in that magnificent
cosmical law, it was Darwin's special task to bring the phenomena of
organic life well within the clear ken of known and invariable natural



And now let us ask ourselves, in all sincerity, what was the final
outcome and net result of Darwin's great and useful life?

If Charles Darwin had never existed at all, there would still have been
a considerable and expansive evolutionary movement both in biology and
in its sister sciences throughout the latter half of the present
century. The harvest indeed was ready, and the labourers, though few,
were full of vigour. Suppose for a moment that that earnest and
single-hearted Darwinian genius had been cut off by some untimely
disease of childhood at five years old, all other conditions remaining
as they were, we should even so have had in our midst to-day, a small
philosophical and influential band of evolutionary workers. Spencer
would none the less have given us his 'First Principles' and the major
part of his 'Principles of Biology,' with comparatively little
alteration or omission. Wallace would none the less have promulgated his
inchoate theory of natural selection, and rallied round his primordial
conception the very best and deepest minds of the biological fraction.
Geology would have enforced the continuity of types; Cope and Marsh
would have unearthed for our edification the ancestral forms of the
evolving horse and the toothed birds of the Western American deposits.
The Solenhofen lithographic slates would still have yielded us the
half-reptilian, half-avian Archaeopteryx; the tertiary deposits would
still have presented us with a long suite of gradually specialised and
modified mammalian forms. The Siberian meadows would have sent us that
intermediate creature which Prjevalsky recognises as the half-way house
between the horses and the donkeys; the rivers of Queensland would have
disclosed to our view that strange lung-bearing and gill-breathing
barramunda, in which Guenther discerns the missing link between the
ganoid fishes on the one hand, and the mudfish and salamandroid
amphibians on the other. From data such as these, biologists and
palaeontologists of the calibre of Huxley, Gaudry, Geikie, Ruetimeyer, and
Busk, would necessarily have derived, by the aid of Wallace's pregnant
principle, conclusions not so very far remote from Darwin's own. Heer
and Saporta would have drawn somewhat similar inferences from the fossil
flora of Switzerland and of Greenland; Hooker and De Candolle would have
read pretty much the self-same lessons in the scattered ferns and scanty
palm-trees of oceanic islands. Kowalevsky would have seen in the
ascidian larva a common prototype of the vertebrate series; the
followers of Von Baer would have popularised the embryological
conception of the single origin of animal life. The researches of
Boucher de Perthes, of Lyell, of Evans, of Boyd Dawkins, of Keller, and
of Christy and Lartet, would have unrolled before our eyes, under any
circumstances, the strange story of prehistoric man. On the facts so
gained, Lubbock and Tylor, Schaafhausen and Buechner, would have built up
their various consistent theories of human development and human
culture. In short, even without Charles Darwin, the nineteenth century
would not have stood still; it would have followed in the wake of Buffon
and Diderot, of Lamarck and Laplace, of St. Hilaire and Goethe, of Kant
and Herschel, of Hutton and Lyell, of Malthus and of Spencer. The great
world never rolls down the abysses of time obedient to the nod of one
single overruling Titanic intellect. 'If the doctrine of evolution had
not existed,' says Huxley, 'palaeontologists must have invented it.'

But Charles Darwin acted, nevertheless, the part of an immense and
powerful accelerating energy. The impetus which he gave gained us at
least fifty years of progress; it sent us at a bound from Copernicus to
Newton; so far as ordinary minds were concerned, indeed, it transcended
at a single leap the whole interval from Ptolemy to Herschel. The
comparison is far from being a mere rhetorical one. A close analogy
really exists between the two cases. Before Copernicus, the earth stood
fixed and immovable in the centre of the universe, with obsequious suns,
and planets, and satellites dancing attendance in cycle and epicycle
around the solid mass, to which by day and night they continually
ministered. The great astronomical revolution begun by Copernicus,
Galileo, and Kepler, and completed by Newton, Laplace, and Herschel,
reduced the earth to its true position as a petty planet, revolving
feebly among its bigger brethren round a petty sun, in some lost corner
of a vast, majestic, and almost illimitable galaxy. Even so, before
Darwin, man stood in his own esteem the fixed point of an
anthropocentric universe, divinely born and divinely instructed, with
all the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air, and the fruits of
the earth specially created with a definite purpose in subservience to
his lordly wants and interests. The great biological revolution, which
rightly almost sums itself up in the name of Darwin, reduced man at once
to his true position as the last product of kinetic solar energy,
working upon the peculiar chemical elements of an evolving planet. It
showed that every part of every plant and every animal existed primarily
for the sake of that plant or animal alone; it unseated man from his
imaginary throne in the centre of the cosmos, teaching him at once a
lesson of humility and a lesson of aspiration--pointing out to him how
low was the origin from which, in very truth, he first sprang, and
suggesting to him, at the same time, how high was the grand and glorious
destiny to which by his own strenuous and ardent efforts he might yet
perchance some day attain.

That result, inevitable perhaps in the long run, from the slow unfolding
of human intelligence, was immensely hastened in our own time by the
peculiar idiosyncrasy and lofty personality of Charles Darwin. Without
him we should have had, not only evolutionism, but also, as Wallace's
discovery testifies, natural selection itself into the bargain. But we
should never have had the 'Origin of Species.' We should never have had
that vast and enthusiastic consensus of scientific opinion through an
all but unanimous thinking world, which has forced an immediate
acceptance of evolutionary ideas down the unwilling throats of half
unthinking Europe. The prodigious mass of Darwin's facts, the cautious
working of Darwin's intellect, the immense weight of Darwin's
reputation, the crushing force of Darwin's masterly inductive method,
bore down before them all opposition in the inner circle of biologists,
and secured the triumph of the evolutionary system even in the very
strongholds of ignorance and obscurantism. Without Darwin, a small group
of philosophic thinkers would still be striving to impress upon an
incredulous and somewhat contemptuous world the central truths of the
evolutionary doctrine. The opposition of the elders, long headed even in
the society we actually know by a few stern scientific recalcitrants,
like Owen and Agassiz, Pictet and Dawson, Virchow and Mivart, would have
fought desperately in the last trench for the final figment of the
fixity of species. What is now the general creed, more or less loosely
held and imperfectly understood, of hundreds and thousands among the
intelligent mass, would, under such circumstances, be even yet the mere
party-shibboleth of an esoteric few, struggling hard against the bare
force of overwhelming numbers to ensure not only recognition but a fair
hearing for the first principles of the development theory. It is to
Darwin, and to Darwin almost alone, that we owe the present
comparatively wide acceptance of the all-embracing doctrine of

No other man did so much or could have done so much to ensure its
triumph. He began early in life to collect and arrange a vast
encyclopaedia of facts, all finally focussed with supreme skill upon the
great principle he so clearly perceived, and so lucidly expounded. He
brought to bear upon the question an amount of personal observation, of
minute experiment, of world-wide book-knowledge, of universal scientific
ability, such as never perhaps was lavished by any other man upon any
other department of study. His conspicuous and beautiful love of truth,
his unflinching candour, his transparent fearlessness and honesty of
purpose, his child-like simplicity, his modesty of demeanour, his
charming manner, his affectionate disposition, his kindliness to friends,
his courtesy to opponents, his gentleness to harsh and often bitter
assailants, kindled in the minds of men of science everywhere throughout
the world a contagious enthusiasm, only equalled perhaps among the
disciples of Socrates and the great teachers of the revival of learning.
His name became a rallying-point for the children of light in every
country; and what philosophers and speculators might have taken a
century or two more to establish in embryo was firmly grounded, never to
be overthrown, by the vast accumulations of fact and argument in the
'Origin of Species,' and its companion volumes.

The end of that great Darwinian revolution the world has not yet seen:
in a sense, indeed, it will never see it. For the general acceptance of
Darwin's theory, which we may watch progressing around us every minute
to-day, implies a complete _bouleversement_ of anthropocentric ideas, a
total change in our human conception of our own relations to the world
and the universe, which must work out for ever increasingly
wide-reaching and complex effects in all our dealings with one another
and with the environment at large. There is no department of human
thought or human action which evolutionism leaves exactly where it
stood before the advent of the Darwinian conception. In nothing is this
fact more conspicuously seen than in the immediate obsolescence (if one
may so speak) of all the statical pre-Darwinian philosophies which
ignored development, as soon as ever the new progressive evolutionary
theories had fairly burst upon an astonished world. Dogmatic Comte was
left forthwith to his little band of devoted adherents; shadowy Hegel
was relegated with a bow to the cool shades of the common-rooms of
Oxford; Buckle was exploded like an inflated wind-bag; even Mill
himself--_magnum et venerabile nomen_--with all his mighty steam-hammer
force of logical directness, was felt instinctively to be lacking in
full appreciation of the dynamic and kinetic element in universal
nature. Spencer and Hartmann, Haeckel and Clifford, had the field to
themselves for the establishment of their essentially evolutionary
systems. Great thinkers of the elder generation, like Bain and Lyell,
felt bound to remodel their earlier conceptions by the light of the new
Darwinian hypotheses. Those who failed by congenital constitution to do
so, like Carlyle and Carpenter, were, philosophically speaking, left
hopelessly behind and utterly extinguished. Those who only half
succeeded in thus reading themselves into the new ideas, like Lewes and
Max Mueller, lost ground immediately before the eager onslaught of their
younger competitors. 'The world is to the young,' says the eastern
proverb; and in a world peopled throughout in the high places of thought
by men almost without exception evolutionists, there was little or no
place for the timid group of stranded Girondins, who still stood aloof
in sullen antique scientific orthodoxy from what seemed to them the
carmagnoles and orgies of a biological Thermidor.

At the same time, it must be steadily remembered that there are many
naturalists at the present day, especially among those of the lower
order of intelligence, who, while accepting evolutionism in a general
way, and therefore always describing themselves as Darwinians, do not
believe and often cannot even understand the distinctive Darwinian
addition to the evolutionary doctrine--namely, the principle of natural
selection. Such hazy and indistinct thinkers as these are still really
at the prior stage of Lamarckian evolutionism. It is probable that in
the future, while a formal acceptance of Darwinism becomes general, the
special theory of natural selection will be thoroughly understood and
assimilated only by the more abstract and philosophical minds. Our
children will be taught as a matter of course the doctrine of
development or of descent with modification; but the rationale of that
descent will still remain in all likelihood always beyond the grasp of
most of them: just as thousands accept on authority the Copernican
astronomy, who would never even be capable of comprehending the simplest
proofs of the earth's annual movement round the sun. Thus the name of
Darwin will often no doubt be tacked on to what are in reality the
principles of Lamarck.

Every day, however, in spite of such half-ignorant adherents, the
effects of true Darwinism are widening and deepening. One group of
earnest workers is using it now as a guide to physiological,
embryological, and anatomical researches. Another is employing it with
zeal and skill in the field of classificatory and physiological botany.
Yet others are working out its psychological implications, enquiring
into instinct and animal intelligence, and solving by its aid abstruse
problems of the human mind and the human emotions. One philosopher has
brought it to bear on questions of ethics, another on questions of
social and political economy. Its principles have been applied in one
place to aesthetics, in another place to logic, in a third place to the
origin and growth of religion. The study of language has derived new
lights from the great central Darwinian luminary. The art of education
is beginning to feel the progressive influence of the Darwinian impulse.
In fact, there is hardly a single original worker in any department of
thought or science who has not been more or less profoundly affected,
whether he knows it or whether he knows it not, by the vast spreading
and circling wave of the Darwinian conceptions. All our ideas have been
revolutionised and evolutionised. The new notions are abroad in the
world, quickening with their fresh and vigorous germinal power the dry
bones of all the sciences, all the arts, and all the philosophies.

And evolutionism is gradually though slowly filtering downward. It is
permeating the daily press of the nations, and gaining for its
vocabulary a recognised place in the phraseology of the unlearned
vulgar. Such expressions as 'natural selection,' 'survival of the
fittest,' 'struggle for existence,' 'adaptation to the environment,' and
all the rest of it, are becoming as household words upon the lips of
thousands who only know the name of Darwin as a butt for the petty empty
jibes of infinitesimal cheap witlings. And Darwinism will trickle down
still through a thousand channels, by definite popularisation, and still
more by indefinite absorption into the common thought of universal
humanity, till it becomes part and parcel of the general inheritance,
bred in our bone and burnt into our blood, an heir-loom of our race to
all time and in all countries. Great thoughts like his do not readily
die: they expand and grow in ten thousand bosoms, till they transform
the world at last into their own likeness, and adapt it to the
environment they have themselves created by their informing power.

Happy above ordinary human happiness, Charles Darwin lived himself to
see the prosperous beginning of this great silent philosophical
revolution. Harvey's grand discovery, it has been well said, was scoffed
at for nearly a whole generation. Newton's marvellous law of gravitation
was coldly received even by the gigantic intellect of Leibnitz himself.
Francis Bacon, in disgrace and humiliation, could only commend his name
and memory 'to foreign nations and to the next age.' It is too often so
with thinkers of the first and highest order: it was not so, happily,
with the gentle soul of Charles Darwin. Alone among the prophets and
teachers of triumphant creeds, he saw with his own eyes the adoption of
the faith he had been the first to promulgate in all its fulness by
every fresh and powerful mind of the younger race that grew up around
him. The Nestor of evolutionism, he had lived among two successive
generations of thinkers, and over the third he ruled as king. With that
crowning joy of a great, a noble, and a happy life, let us leave him
here alone in his glory.


    Anticipations of natural selection
    'Antiquity of Man'

    Bates; in Brazil; on mimicry
    'Beagle,' voyage of the; Zoology of
    Bell, Sir C.
    Boucher de Perthes
    British Association

    CHAMBERS, Robert; his 'Vestiges of Creation'
    Colenso on the Pentateuch
    'Coral Reefs'
    Cuvier; as a geologist; system of animals

    DARWIN, Charles, his ancestry; birth; birthplace; contemporaries;
    education; at Edinburgh University; at Cambridge; starts on the
    voyage of the 'Beagle'; returns to England; publishes his journal;
    plans 'Origin of Species'; elected to Royal Society; secretary to
    Geological Society; marries; publishes 'Coral Reefs'; geological
    observations; Monograph on Barnacles; publishes 'Origin of Species';
    its success; second edition; variation of animals and plants;
    pangenesis; fertilisation of orchids; 'Descent of Man'; later works;
    last illness and death; character; place in evolutionary movement;
    outcome of his work

    DARWIN, Erasmus; his life; appearance; poems; 'Zoonomia'; 'Temple
    of Nature'; his marriages; on descent of man; on sexual selection

    Darwin, Erasmus, the younger
    Darwin, Robert
    Darwin, Robert Waring; his home
    De Candolle
    Down House, Darwin settles at
    Du Chaillu

    Evolution, general theory of

    Fiske, Prof.; on natural selection
    Fitzroy, Captain

    Galton, Francis
    Geology, rise of; evolutionary aspect of
    Goethe; on animal origin of man
    Gray, Asa

    HAECKEL, letter to; 'History of Creation'; on sexual selection
    Henslow, Prof.; recommends Darwin to Capt. Fitzroy; at Oxford
    Herbert, Dean
    Herschel, Sir Wm.
    Holland, Sir Henry
    Hooker, Sir Joseph; on catasetum; accepts Darwinism;  publishes his
    'Flora of Australia'
    Horner, Leonard
    Huxley, Prof., lecture at Royal Institution; 'Man's Place in
    Nature'; on coming of age of 'Origin of Species'


    KANT, nebular hypothesis
    Knight's law

    LAMARCK; Darwin's reading of; on descent of man
    Laplace, nebular hypothesis
    Linnaeus; his artificial system
    Lyell; 'Principles of Geology'; extract from letters; anticipations
    of natural selection; slow acceptance of Darwinism; 'Antiquity of Man'

    MALTHUS; influence on Darwin
    Matthew, Patrick; extracts from
    Monte Video, Darwin at
    Mould, formation of
    Mount, the
    Mueller, Fritz
    Mueller, Hermann

    'NATURALIST on the Amazons'
    'Naturalist's Voyage round the World' published
    Natural system
    Nebular hypothesis
    New Zealand, Darwin at

    'Origin of Species,' first planned projected; published; analysis of;
    its success; second edition
    Owen, Sir R.; on types

    'Philosophie Zoologique'
    Population, Malthus's essay on
    Powell, Baden-
    'Physiological Units'
    Psychology, evolution in

    Rio Janeiro, Darwin at

    ST. HILAIRE, Geoffroy; the younger
    St. Paul's Rocks
    Sexual selection, first glimpse of; Darwin's theory of
    Smith, William
    Spencer, Herbert; on 'Vestiges of Creation'; essay in the 'Leader';
    'Principles of Psychology'; essay in 'Westminster Review'; extracts
    from 'Leader' essay; accepts Darwin's theory; 'Principles of Biology';
    'Physiological Units'; theory of evolution

    THOMPSON, Allen
    Tyndall, Prof.

    'VESTIGES of Creation'; criticism of
    Von Baer
    Von Buch

    WALLACE, Alfred Russel; goes to Brazil; publishes his travels; in Malay
    archipelago; discovers natural selection; paper at Linnean Society; on
    sexual selection
    Wedgwood, Emma
    Wedgwood, Hensleigh
    Wedgwood, Josiah
    Wedgwood, Susannah
    Wells, Dr., anticipates natural selection
    White, Gilbert, on worms
    Worms, action of
    Wright, Chauncey

    'ZOONOMIA,' Erasmus Darwin's

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